mRNA technology used in covid vaccines could create personal cancer treatments

It’s exciting to think about how the coronavirus vaccines were developed so quickly, using mRNA technology in development for decades. Scientists and researchers have been able to stem a deadly virus thanks to years of hard work behind the scenes, and an understanding of similar viruses. HIV vaccines, which have eluded scientists for years, are in development using mRNA technology. Small initial trials show incredible antibody rates similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That same technology could now help advance the fight against cancer. Individualized cancer treatments could be developed using a patient’s own cells. I read a bunch of articles trying to figure this out, and I think that Business Insider explains it the best in layman’s terms:

Scientists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are preparing to study mRNA as a cancer treatment right now.

They believe mRNA could be used to prevent cancer recurrence, Dr. Van Morris, an oncologist heading the clinical trial, said in a recent article on the MD Anderson website.

The likelihood of cancer recurring varies based on the type of cancer, and is most common with ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, and glioblastoma. Recurrence happens when small amounts of cancer cells stay in the body after treatment, multiply, and in some cases move to other areas of the body.

In the trial, which is currently in its second phase, doctors test cancer patients who had tumors removed and went through chemotherapy. Once tests reveal cancer cells that are still circulating throughout their bodies, the researchers create individualized mRNA cocktails.

“We’re hopeful that with the personalized vaccine, we’re priming the immune system to go after the residual tumor cells, clear them out and cure the patient,” said Morris.

[From Business Insider]

This is incredible and while this technology has existed, the urgent need to get vaccines out against coronavirus helped secure the funding and research to make these advancements possible. I only hope that if individualized mRNA cancer treatments are developed they’re available to everyone and aren’t reserved for the very rich. Healthcare in the US should not be a for-profit system that only treats people who can afford it.

I’m thinking about this because I just got my second Pfizer vaccine on Friday. I’m so grateful to all the scientists who persevered despite setbacks, especially during the last anti-science administration. There’s a wonderful article in the NY Times about one of the founders of mRNA-based gene therapy, an Hungarian scientist named Katalin Kariko. She never had enough funding, her ideas were dismissed and belittled, and she had to move jobs and labs frequently. She’s now 66, is a senior VP at BioNTech and is seeing her life’s work save millions of people.

Katalin Kariko, founder of mRNA-based gene therapy



Photos credit: Krdobyns via Wikipedia, National Cancer Institute and CDC via Pexels

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24 Responses to “mRNA technology used in covid vaccines could create personal cancer treatments”

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  1. Sunnydaze says:

    Please. Please let this happen. We just lost my aunt, the most magnificent woman to metastatic breast cancer after nearly 30 years of remission. Fu*k cancer.

    • Celebitchy says:

      I’m so sorry you lost your aunt Sunny. My cousin just passed from lung cancer yesterday, after I wrote this story. We are devastated. He was only 59 and did not smoke, not that it matters. I wish these treatments were already available. Love and hugs to you.

  2. Astrid says:

    Thanks for covering this story

  3. ema says:

    I’m currently going through treatment for triple negative breast cancer, which is considered the “worst” breast cancer b/c it doesn’t respond to targeted treatments and has a higher recurrence rate. The science of breast cancer vaccines using mRNA technology is such a hopeful thing for those of us in this fight. I truly hope we see advances quickly in this area and there become more treatment options, esp for TNBC.

  4. Lola says:

    Yes!!! Thank you for covering Kati Kariko who developed this technology. She got no respect as a scientist, never got her own lab, had to bounce around other people’s labs depending on who would take her in, never made more than $60,000. Hope she is going to get her propers from this, and finally get her own lab, and get her own large funding grants, and that whatever obscene amounts of profit that pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders are sure to make from this, she gets her share of that.

    It’s devastating to think of all the brilliant women and POC over the years who had a tremendous contribution to humanity within them, who were constantly shoved aside and held back in favor of these mediocre white male assholes!!

    • Mina_Esq says:

      Yes!!! I remember watching her interview and thinking “wow, this woman basically invented the technology that’s going to save us”, but she was so humble about it and constantly shifting credit to others around her. Give this woman the Nobel Prize!

    • lucy2 says:

      I often think about that – where would we be if everyone had equal opportunities, and people weren’t held back by their gender or race?

  5. Mina_Esq says:

    Cuomo had Dr. Kariko on his show very early on, and it was learning that they had been researching mRNA for decades that first gave me reassurance about the safety of the vaccine. I have to admit I had some initial hesitancy. mRNA is one of those scientific breakthroughs that seems too good to be true. A hidden blessing that scientists like Dr. Kariko finally got the money and support they needed to bring this technology to fruition.

  6. GingerSnap says:

    So amazing and inspiring and moving. All the sincere gratitude in the world to these innovative, pioneering heroes using their hard work and incredible minds to better the world. Scientists and credible medical professionals became some of the most vilified people in American society during the last administration, and yet they fought on for the common good. Heroes really is the best word.

    But also how enraging. These people have always had the capability and the interest and the inspiration. They just didn’t have the funding or the support. It took a global pandemic for people in power to lend that power to the betterment of humanity, and already leaps and bounds have been made to the treatment of HIV and cancer and other such nefarious diseases that have plagued humanity for decades. How much farther and faster could we have gone with medical care if they had received funding and support earlier?

  7. Cee says:

    My mum’s cousin died of uterine cancer last year. She only lived 1.5 months past her diagnosis and her death was painful. She was in so much pain she went into cardiac arrest and died. Because of COVID she stopped having her annual check ups and they all avoided hospitals/clinics for months.
    I know some of us are still not vaccinated but please do not put off annual check ups, visits to your ob/gyn and dentist appointments. COVID can kill but so do other illnesses we have to live with. If you have an uterus and are no longer fertile you still have a right to proper gynecological care, paps and uterine ultrasounds. GET THEM.

    Dr. Kariko has the possibility to save millions (hundreds of millions) of lives thanks to her work, her commitment, her brains and her ability to imagine something and then bring it to life. She is the kind of person that should always be given funding and listened to. I am grateful she persevered, I am grateful she exists.

    • OriginalLala says:

      yes to this! I found a lump in my boob in the fall and was not sure about going to see my Doc because of Covid – my hubby forced me to make an appt and I’m glad he did – the lump is a cyst but one that will need a biopsy (has some solid parts that can sometimes contain cancer cells) and I’m now waiting for a biopsy date. I’m so glad I listened to him..

      • Cee says:

        Oh, the same happened to a friend! She noticed a lump for some time and when she finally got an appointment with her gyno, it was a cyst that needs a biopsy. It can be so scary! Glad you’re OK! And well done to your husband.

  8. Alexandria says:

    Wow…there is a silver lining to Covid. The universe works in mysterious ways. Thank you scientists.

    • Anners says:

      That’s what I was thinking, too. I don’t want to be pollyanna-ish, but I’m grateful for some of the awesome things that have come out of this pandemic. Not that it was worth the cost, but I’m grateful that if the cost had to be paid anyway, at least there were some good things, too (if that makes sense? In no way want to minimize global suffering).

  9. Riley says:

    I had my 2nd Pfizer shot on Friday and it knocked me on my ass, but was totally worth it.

    My father has metastatic malignant melanoma, and is reaching the end of viable treatments. If an mRNA vaccine were developed in the next couple of years that could help him, that would be the single greatest thing to happen to our family.

  10. lucy2 says:

    It really is amazing, and could lead to many breakthroughs, and hopefully the end of suffering for some.
    My dad had bladder cancer that came back a few times (common with that) before being knocked out for some time now, and his mother had breast cancer that was “cured” and then came back stronger a few years later. It would be amazing to stop those recurrences.

  11. Lissdogmom02 says:

    I love, love new science. What killed my beloved grandmother esophageal cancer is now often recovered from. Most Brest cancer is the same. We are making advances & I’m so happy.
    I’m very sorry about your cousin, I read above in the comments. This is why education & imagination is so key. Hopefully soon people won’t be lost to cancer.

  12. Det20! says:

    Can we (Tschic excepted) please acknowledge that this was not done by Pfizer alone and the vaccine is actually by Pfizer/BioNTech?! BioNTech has been working on developing individual cancer treatment based on mRNA for years and shifted the development to getting a vaccine against SARS-Cov-2 in spring 2020. You can read about the company here: