mRNA technology is new on the scene, but not anonymous. It has been examined for more than a decade. However, it has ushered in a new approach to vaccines. So, what is mRNA technology? Let’s take a look.
What is mRNA?
Let’s start with RNA. RNA is an acronym for RiboNucleic Acid, which is a polymeric molecule that is vital in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. RNA and DNA are nucleic acids. Together with lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates, nucleic acids constitute one of the four major macromolecules essential for all known forms of life.
RNA is substantially different from DNA: DNA contains two intercoiled strands, but RNA only contains one single strand.
RNA additionally contains ribose as opposed to deoxyribose
found in DNA. The consequence of these differences is RNA being chemically more reactive than DNA. This causes it to be the more suitable molecule to take part in cell reactions. It is also the carrier of genetic information in certain viruses, in particular the retroviruses such as the HIV virus. This is the only exclusion to the general rule that DNA is the hereditary substance of the two.
mRNA is an acronym for Messenger RiboNucleic Acid and is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that departs from the cell nucleus and travels
to the cytoplasm where proteins are produced. This is why it is called messenger RNA.
During protein synthesis (the process in which cells make proteins), an organelle (a subcellular structure that has one or more specific jobs to perform in the cell, much like an organ does in the body) called a ribosome travels along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.
mRNA is just one of the kinds of RNA that are found in the cell. This particular one, the mRNA, like most RNAs, is made in the nucleus and then exported to the cytoplasm where the translation machinery, the machinery that essentially produces proteins, attaches to these mRNA molecules and reads the code on the mRNA to make a particular protein. So in broad terms, one gene, the DNA for one gene, can be transcribed into an mRNA molecule that will end up making one specific protein.
What does mRNA do?
So, what does mRNA do? In a nutshell, mRNA generates instructions to make proteins that may treat and or prevent disease.
mRNA medicines aren’t small molecules, like conventional pharmaceuticals. Neither are they conventional biologics (recombinant proteins and monoclonal antibodies) – which were the origins of the biotech industry. mRNA medicines on the other hand are sets of instructions. Also, these instructions direct cells in the body to make proteins to prevent and or fight disease.
It is essentially simple human biology. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a double-stranded molecule that stores the genetic code (instructions) the body’s cells require to produce proteins. Proteins, conversely, are the ‘workhorses’ of the body. Nearly every task in the body – including normal and disease-related – is accomplished by one or many proteins.
However, mRNA is just as critical as DNA. Without mRNA, the genetic code would never get used by the body. Proteins would never be made. In addition, the body could not perform its functions. Messenger mRNA, plays a vital role in human biology.
mRNA and Medicine
Drug companies are using mRNA to produce a new class of medicines. They are making use of the fundamental role that mRNA plays in protein synthesis and have developed exclusive technologies and methods to produce mRNA sequences that cells recognize as if they were produced in the body. They focus on diseases that as critical as DNA. Without mRNA, the genetic code would never get used by the body. Proteins would never be made. In addition, the body could not perform its functions. Messenger mRNA, plays a vital role in human biology.
mRNA and Medicine
Drug companies are using mRNA to produce a new class of medicines. They are making use of the fundamental role that mRNA plays in protein synthesis and have developed exclusive technologies and methods to produce mRNA sequences that cells recognize as if they were produced in the body. They focus on diseases that were enabling targeted cells to produce – or turn ‘on’ – one or more given proteins that will enable the body to fight or prevent a given disease.
Here is how this works.
- It begins with the desired sequence for a protein.
- The corresponding mRNA sequence is designed and synthesized. This is the code that will create the protein.
- Before synthesis is commenced, the mRNA sequence to optimize the mRNA’s physical properties is also engineered, as well as those of the encoded protein.
- The mRNA sequence is delivered to the cells responsible for making that protein by way of one of several potential groups of mRNA medicines. Achieving success with different types of cells necessitates different delivery methods.
- Lastly, once the mRNA instructions are in the cell, human biology takes over. Ribosomes examine the code and construct the protein, and the cells express the protein throughout the body.
Using mRNA as a drug opens up an advent of opportunities to treat and prevent disease. mRNA medicines have the ability to go inside cells to direct protein production, something that is not probable with other drug approaches giving science the potential to treat or prevent diseases that today are not addressable. Thus potentially improving human health and impacting lives around the world.
How they work
The main goal of a vaccine for a specific infectious agent, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, is to educate the immune system on what that particular virus looks like. Once this is accomplished, the immune system will vehemently attack the real virus, if it ever enters the body.
Viruses comprise a nucleus of genes made of DNA or RNA enclosed in a cover of proteins. To make the cover of protein, the DNA or RNA genes of the virus make messenger RNA (mRNA); the mRNA then makes the proteins. An mRNA of a particular structure makes a protein of a particular structure.
Some traditional vaccines use a weakened virus, while others, like the mRNA vaccine, use just a critical piece of the virus’s protein coat.
Conventional vaccines do work: for instance, polio and measles are just two (2) examples of severe illnesses brought under control by vaccines. As a group, vaccines may have done more good for humanity than any other medical advance in history. However, growing great amounts of a virus, and then weakening the virus or extracting the critical piece, is very time-consuming.
When an individual is contaminated with a germ, whether it is a virus or bacteria, the immune system creates unique proteins, known as antibodies that assist in protecting against future infections from that particular germ by remembering it. The next time the immune system spots that germ, it “remembers” and uses the antibodies to fight off the infection. Some antibodies only last a few months, while others can protect an individual for a lifetime.
So in essence, vaccines create antibodies that allow the body to protect itself from future infections without essentially getting sick.
Previously developed vaccines contained very small amounts of viruses or bacteria that were dead or significantly weakened. They tricked the immune system into thinking that the body was being infected.
How mRNA Vaccines Work
mRNA is a slice of genetic material that cells use as “directions” to create selected proteins in the body. It is like a small piece of computer code. In the case of COVID-19, a piece called the spike protein is the critical piece.
When it is not within a cell, mRNA requires protection to keep it from disintegrating. That is why the vaccines need cold temperature storage. In order to keep the mRNA from disintegrating when it enters the body, the COVID-19 vaccines utilize fat bubbles to shuttle the mRNA to certain cells.
mRNA Vaccines and COVID19
The mRNA directs these cells to produce “spike proteins.” These proteins replicate part of the SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) cell structure and trick the body into believing it is infected with the virus.
In the case of the mRNA vaccines, the body is never exposed to the germ however; it is still able to produce an effective immune response.
So in essence, mRNA vaccines create antibodies exclusively from the protein coating of the virus instead of using the virus, allowing the body to protect itself from future infections without essentially getting sick.
What is contained in the COVID Vaccines? Like all additional vaccines approved by the FDA, COVID vaccines do not include noxious or dangerous ingredients. This is a common vaccine myth.
The ingredients of the vaccine include safe and harmless pieces (proteins) of the virus that cause COVID-19 and not of the entire germ. When vaccinated, the immune system identifies that the proteins do not belong in the body and begins producing T-lymphocytes and antibodies. If infection occurs in the future, memory cells will recognize and fight the virus.
One of the advantages of using the present COVID vaccines is that they avoid some of the issues some individuals may have with some vaccines. For example, the vaccines are not produced by using egg proteins, so unlike some forms of the flu vaccine, individuals who have an egg allergy can obtain the vaccine.
In addition, human fetal cells are not used during the vaccine development process. This makes the COVID vaccines a suitable alternative for individuals who object to this practice.
Scientists are still carefully examining exactly how long the vaccine’s protection will last. The participants who were part of the COVID-19 vaccine studies have agreed to be monitored for two (2) years to enable researchers to establish exactly how long immunity will last.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two (2) doses to realize immunity. This will ensure that the immune system will create enough antibodies to remember and protect against future COVID infections. Learn more important facts about the COVID vaccine.
It is important to note that since mRNA “instructs” cells to perform certain actions, a number of individuals have expressed apprehension about the vaccine affecting their DNA. This is not the case. mRNA vaccines will by no means interact with the body’s DNA. As a matter of fact, once the cell has finished using the mRNA, the cells break it down and remove it from the body.
mRna technology is truly an advancement in fighting disease and illness. Below is a video further illustrating how these vaccines work.
Questions, comments and concerns are welcomed below.