On 19 April 2023, Katalin Karikó, Professor at the University of Szeged, was elected a member of the most prestigious scientific society in the German-speaking world. The world-renowned biochemist spoke about the miraculous mRNA molecule at Leopoldina.
Einstein and Goethe, Darwin and Marie Curie were all members of the German scientific society, which Katalin Karikó joined, a Professor at the University of Szeged. "Leopoldina brings together researchers with special expertise in their fields." Since the foundation of the "Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina" in 1652, more than 7000 scientists have been appointed members.
|Katalin Karikó, who was elected a member of the scientific organisation, gave a lecture at the headquarters of the German academy named after the German-Roman Emperor Leo I. Photo by János Stekovics
Los Angeles on Saturday, Halle on Wednesday
"From vaccine development to cancer therapy: biochemist Katalin Karikó will give a Leopoldina lecture on the potential of mRNA therapy" - leopoldina.org offered the event after the certificate presentation ceremony on 19 April 2023 "Messenger RNA was discovered in 1961. It took 60 years for mRNA to be approved for medical use" by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Katalin Karikó has focused her rich research career on "RNA-mediated mechanisms".
During the introduction of her career it was highlighted: the Hungarian biochemist studied biology at the University of Szeged, where she obtained her PhD degree. Katalin Karikó's "work made it possible to develop an mRNA-based vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 in 2020, just a few months after the virus emerged".
In addition to describing her research career and career path, her most important fellowships and honours she has received to date were listed as well. The list includes a wide range of awards, from membership of the Academia Europaea to honorary doctorate of the University of Szeged and honorary membership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; from the title of Honorary Citizen of Kisújszállás in 2009 to the János Bolyai Prize in 2021 and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2022. The exceptional interest and recognition for the work of this world-renowned biochemist is demonstrated by the fact that on the fourth day after the ceremony in Hollywood for this latest award, she was celebrated in Halle, Germany, where she received her certificate of membership of the Leopoldina Academy.
When a photo is a gift
Katalin Karikó said she was honoured to give a speech at the Leopoldina Academy. On her socia media page she shared: "My compatriot photographer Janos Stekovics also came and documented the event."
János Stekovics worked at the Szeged Press House as a correspondent for the Hungarian Telegraphic Office in the Southern Great Plain between 1985 and 1989. He considers the years in Szeged the best period of his life, but was forced to leave due to the regime of the time... In 1992 he founded a publishing company in Halle, where he has published more than 700 publications, including several science-related books enriched with photographs.
|Katalin Karikó gave a lecture at Leopoldina on the potential of mRNA therapy in Halle
‘It was my personal wish to thank Katalin Karikó for what she and her colleagues did for humanity by developing the vaccine during the pandemic.’ said János Stekovics, explaining his presence at Leopoldina. He read the announcement of the Leopoldina event in a newspaper in Halle.Academics and researchers were joined by science-loving citizens of Halle for Katalin Karikó's Leopoldina lecture. The large hall of the Leopoldina building, with a capacity of 170 people, was fully packed. Even visitors from Tübingen, including immunologist and cancer researcher Hans-Georg Rammensee, a new member of the Leopoldina, came to the event, as we learnt from the MTI's former correspondent from the Southern Great Plain. The German researcher's biography reveals that he is not only linked to Katalin Karikó by his Leopoldina membership, but also by the fact that both are recipients of the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter prizes.
‘I have read about Katalin Karikó's life story, that despite all the difficulties, she stubbornly continued to research and believe in herself and her theory. That is the true path!’ said my acquaintance from the press house of Szeged.
After a presentation in English outlining the potential further applications of the mRNA discoveries, some technical questions were asked. This year's winner of the prestigious Schleiden Memorial Medal, Franz-Ulrich Hartl from Kassel, was also in conversation with Katalin Karikó. The two researchers have in common that they both received the Debrecen Prize, the Horwitz Prize and the Lasker Prize, among others.
|Franz-Ulrich Hartl and Katalin Karikó talked like old friends during a break in the Leopoldina Academy's programme in Halle. Photo by János Stekovics
‘I was touched when a young woman came up to Katalin Karikó and gave her a painted glass globe as a token of her respect’ said János Stekovics, a former journalist from Szeged. It was touching, because it is not what she gave, but that she gave a gift from the heart, the work of her hands, which is therefore more valuable than any purchased object.
János Stekovics gave his photos taken at the Leopoldina lecture as a gift to Katalin Karikó and the readers of the SZTE News Portal.
‘The Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina was appointed the German National Academy of Sciences on 14 July 2008. (…) The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina is a registered non-profit organization. It is financed by public funds from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (80 percent) and the state of Saxony-Anhalt (20 percent)…’ reads the Leopoldina website.
Among the rich history of the scientific body, the list of Leopoldina members includes more than 170 Nobel Prize-winning researchers. In addition to Albert Szent-Györgyi, the former Nobel Prize-winning Rector of the University of Szeged, many of the current distinguished scientists are also associated with the University of Szeged. For example, the American Bruce Beutler, who recently gave a lecture here, or the German Erwin Neher, who visited last year. The Israeli Ada Yonath, who spoke at a conference in 2012 organized to honour Albert Szent-Györgyi's Nobel Prize, and Bert Sakmann, a returning academic to the University of Szeged, who is a supporter of the National Academy of Scientist Education, which was founded at the University of Szeged, are also members of Leopoldina.
The prestigious German scientific society has 12 Hungarian members. Katalin Karikó is the 13th. Among the earlier members of Leopoldina with links to Szeged are Éva Kondorosi, an academic and former colleague and friend of Katalin Karikó, and Pál Venetianer, one of her former teachers and an academic and former director general of the Biological Recearch Centre, Szeged. The illustrious group also includes academic Ferenc Nagy, current Director General of the Biological Recearch Centre, Szeged; former lecturer at JATE Szeged, academic László Lovász, former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and Tamás Freund, current President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
The cover shows Katalin Karikó's lecture at Leopoldina. The photo was taken in both colour and "classic" black-and-white versions and given as a gift to the world-famous Hungarian biochemist by János Stekovics, a former MTI correspondent from the Southern Great Plain, who founded his own publishing house in Halle.
More information about Katalin Karikó, research professor at the University of Szeged, is available on the SZTE website.