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MRNA vaccines race us toward future of health care

Collegian | Taylor Joy MacMahon

Medicine is a continually evolving subject. As new discoveries are made, medicine must change to provide people with the most updated and effective care. Although messenger RNA — or mRNA — vaccine technology was being worked on before the pandemic, it did not become truly prevalent until COVID-19 came into the picture.

MRNA technology has been progressing since the 1970s. MRNA was discovered in the early 1960s. But it was not until the COVID-19 pandemic that mRNA vaccines were truly able to be showcased as safe and effective.


“(MRNA) is a very versatile platform,” said Jeffrey Wilusz, a professor at CSU and editor of the Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews RNA journal.

The central dogma of molecular biology states that the pathway of genetic information goes from DNA to RNA to proteins and only in this pattern. There are many different types of RNA found within the cell, but mRNA is the one that contains the blueprint for proteins. Proteins then go on to do almost everything in the human body, from providing energy to maintaining body tissue. 

“You can make (mRNA) vaccines against anything. You can make proteins against anything.” -Jeffrey Wilusz, CSU professor of RNA biology and virology

“Messenger RNA is RNA that is made from DNA … that is destined to encode proteins,” Wilusz said.

MRNA does not enter the nucleus, where DNA is stored, but rather leaves the nucleus to go into the cytoplasm of the cell.

“(MRNA) goes out of the nucleus, … it goes out into the cytoplasm where ribosomes assemble, … it starts translation and you get the protein,” Wilusz said. “RNA is cool.”

There are now discussions of mRNA vaccines potentially protecting against diseases other than COVID-19.

“You can make (mRNA) vaccines against anything,” Wilusz said. “You can make proteins against anything.”

Talks of an mRNA flu shot are becoming more popular. Moderna, one of the companies that produced an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, reported positive results regarding immunity and an mRNA flu shot. Pfizer, another company that produced an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, is already conducting clinical trials for an mRNA flu vaccine.

There are several different types of flu shots available to the public. However, an mRNA flu shot could potentially provide a better immune response and better protection against the virus.


There are even talks of a potential mRNA vaccine for tuberculosis. An mRNA vaccine for tuberculosis has the potential to provide better protection than the current tuberculosis vaccine, the BCG vaccine. While the technology might not be there yet, there is potential.

“BCG — it’s a good vaccine for the initial years, but … the prevention is better in kids until around 12 years of age,” said Dr. Marcela Henao-Tamayo, a Monfort professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and pathology at CSU. “At this point, … I’m not sure an mRNA vaccine would work better for tuberculosis, but I think the mRNA technology is also improving a lot.”

Reach Hana Pavelko at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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