Letter From the JCTS Editor: Celebrating Groundbreaking Research
Lars Berglund, M.D., Ph.D., FAHA
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (JCTS)
October is the time of year when the Nobel Prize winners are notified and the world takes notice. By tradition, the winners of the Physiology and Medicine prize are first out of the gate followed by the winners of the prizes in Physics, Chemistry and Literature. As Norway was in a political union with Sweden at the time the prizes were initiated in 1901, the Storting, or the Norwegian parliament, was trusted to award the peace prize. The prize in economics is a late-comer, conceived by the Central Bank of Sweden in memory of Alfred Nobel at the 300th year anniversary of the bank in 1968. Tradition prevails as each awarding institution, in the case of the prize in Physiology and Medicine, the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute, is guided by the will of Nobel which states that the prize should be awarded to a living person (or a maximum of three people) who has made the most important discovery in physiology or medicine. Another tradition relates to the order the prizes were mentioned in Nobel’s will with the prize in Physics being the first stated. This is why the prize winner in Physics is the first of equals and traditionally has a top placement at the ceremony and at the elaborate banquet in the Blue Hall of the stately City Hall of Stockholm.
The winners in Physiology and Medicine this year illustrate both the hardship and the incredible importance of persistence and the ability to interpret laboratory findings that is bread and butter for many researchers. It is also an example of the importance of bridging areas of expertise, in this case molecular biology and immunology. In the early phase of their research into mRNA, Drs. Kariko and Weissman faced funding challenges and their persistence was tested. The discovery of the reason why mRNA elicited an immunological response proved crucial and led to further discoveries and eventually paving the way for mRNA-based vaccines. It is often stated that it takes 17 years from discovery to an application and the time frame here is about that period but the particular consequences are on a gigantic scale. Many of us are the beneficiaries of their hard work that provided the underpinnings for a vaccine that likely saved millions of lives and allowed us to return to something resembling normalcy. Not to mention the potential of additional areas of promise. The discovery is a very elegant demonstration of translational science at its best. The justification provided by the Nobel Assembly summarizes it well: “The discoveries by the two Nobel Prize laureates were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020. Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”
It is important to consider the circumstances early in the research path of the laureates when all the puzzle pieces were not in place. Funding fundamental research is critical and sometimes a gamble as no one quite knows what might come out of individual projects. Nevertheless, if funding agencies do not roll the dice and study sections are not open to unconventional ideas, preferring what perhaps might be seen as a more promising stepwise approach, we might collectively miss out on breakthroughs. It is critical to be ready to accept that funded projects do not always lead to advances and make sure that we take care of the many brave emerging scientists testing their ideas that are critical to our future. It is our hope that JCTS will contribute to this pioneering spirit and serve as a forum where novel and exciting findings can be made available to a broader community.
Translational Science 2024: Award Nominations Are Open
Translational Science: Innovation to Increase Equity is accepting award nominations. Acknowledge the outstanding contributions of the investigators and educators you work with by submitting a nomination for one of our Translational Science 2024 Awards today!
ACTS provides its members a platform for advancing the discipline of clinical and translational science with which it relates to improving human health. Submit your award nominations by Monday, November 27, 2023.
NCATS Strategic Plan 2024-2029
The National Center for Advancing Translational Science recently issued a request for information (RFI) to seek input on the framework from the public, including NIH staff. The framework will be further developed into the NCATS Strategic Plan for 2024–2029. The RFI is open for responses through November 1. To learn more about the framework, visit https://ncats.nih.gov/strategicplan.
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