It’s a medical breakthrough that could save millions of lives.
We’re talking about the use of the messenger RNA technology to create a COVID vaccine in record time. It’s a breakthrough 30 years in the making, but for the public — it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Now, the complexity of the human DNA/RNA system and the science of the mRNA vaccine has muddled the public’s understanding that could have a dramatic impact on a host of other vaccines, said Josh Beck, lead for Gila County Health and Emergency Management Department’s COVID response.
“It’s a game changer,” he said of the technology.
Beck recognizes people are leery.
“What scares people is how fast this came online,” said Beck. “But it’s not new technology.”
The first whispers of the mRNA vaccine technology started more than 30 years ago. It took years of research, experimentation, and innovation to solve all the problems posed by using delicate, customized RNA as a whole new way of designing vaccines.
DNA provides the blueprint for everything a cell does. But it relies on RNA to carry the instructions for individual proteins to the specialized cells that crank out those proteins.
Once scientists understood this relationship, they could use targeted RNA to get those factory cells to produce particular proteins on demand.
The technology seemed potentially useful against viruses, many of which are also made of RNA. Viruses have already evolved to take over cells and turn them into tiny virus factories.
RNA molecules are half of the double helix of DNA. They contain only a fragment of the information of a DNA strand and die off once they have completed their mission. Neither RNA nor viruses can make copies of themselves. They rely on the cell’s DNA to make copies.
In the body, RNA produced by the DNA gives factory cells the blueprint of a protein to produce. In a virus, the RNA prompts the factory cells to churn out viruses.
To trick the cell, the virus acts like a spy, picking the lock of the cell to upload new orders to the DNA to build viruses rather than proteins.
The mRNA technology also tricks the cell. But the carefully modified RNA blueprint in the vaccine tells the factory cells how to make only the spike protein the COVID virus uses to lock onto cells.
The viral protein turned out by the factory cells annoys …….