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Nobel laureate Katalin Karikó was celebrated with standing ovations and applause at the American Academy of Medicine meeting in Washington, D.C.

Nobel laureate Katalin Karikó was celebrated with standing ovations and applause at the meeting of the American Academy of Medicine in Washington, D.C. on 7 October 2023. In addition to the world-renowned mRNA researcher, Kornélia Polyák, cancer researcher and alumna of the University of Szeged, was also elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).

Our two correspondents, Ilona Újszászi and István Sahin-Tóth, report from Washington, D.C.:

A large number of people gathered around the huge white building of the National Academy of Medicine in the heart of Washington in the afternoon of 7 October 2023.

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Nobel laureate Katalin Karikó was among the first to enter the Washington building, which is also home to the National Academy of Medicine. Photo by: István Sahin-Tóth

In the "American White House" of Medicine

The iconic statue of Einstein here is a popular tourist destination, but this time more and more people besides tourists came to the main entrance, which was lined with a carpet of flowers. An unusual object near the gate, a tall ladder, suggested that photographers were preparing to take a group photo of the large crowd.

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Last autumn we announced that two alumni of the University of Szeged had been elected members of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). We also reported that "Katalin Karikó and Kornelia Polyák, two former students of the University of Szeged and two former colleagues of the Biological Research Centre in Szeged have been elected members of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) ".

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Nobel Laureate Katalin Karikó was delighted to welcome Kornélia Polyák – a researcher who also graduated from the predecessor institution of the University of Szeged – at the NAM meeting in Washington, D.C., accompanied by her daughter.

The US National Academy of Medicine has recently added 100 new members. NAM membership is considered one of the most prestigious honours in health and medicine. This year, following the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, these words have taken on added significance, not only for SZTE community, but also for the NAM.

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Katalin Karikó was greeted with applause as she entered the NAM building. The Nobel Prize-winning mRNA researcher received the same warm welcome from administrators who support the work of American scientists as the hundreds of participants in the Philadelphia flash mob. They congratulated Katalin Karikó on her Nobel Prize and helped her recharge her laptop and phone, which she used constantly during her trip from Philadelphia to Washington. The mRNA researcher, winner of the most prestigious scientific award and recipient of hundreds of other honours, accepted the greetings with her usual naturalness. She stood next to the NAM staff members who kept asking for selfies again and again, and smiled genuinely into the camera of the mobile phones.

Women icons in films and photos
By 3 p.m., the crowd had slowly but surely split into two large groups. Guests and family members of new NAM members could watch Karen Cantor's documentary in several rooms. The Return, which has won several awards, was made with the participation of Native American women. The film shows what Native American women, refugees in their own land, do to regain their spiritual balance. It also documents how women in indigenous communities try to provide healthy food for their families. The film, which is about preserving tradition, reviving ancestral teachings and passing on knowledge, has received special attention at the White House of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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Women were also the focus of attention inside the NAM headquarters, especially in the space between the portrait sculptures of Darwin and Einstein. There were, for instance, photographs of American women scientists on the wall of one of the rooms. The short quotes and information below the photographs summarised how women, who had finally won the right to study at university in the last century, had enriched science. There, we discovered portraits of Nobel Prize-winning women researchers who came into contact with Katalin Karikó. For example, the portrait of the American chemist Jennifer A. Doudna, one of the 2020 Nobel laureates in Chemistry, who nominated Katalin Karikó for several awards, and who, just like the mRNA researcher, has been inducted into the American Inventors Hall of Fame. On another table we discovered a portrait and a short description of the work of Frances H. Arnold, who presented Katalin Karikó with one of her most prestigious awards at the Golden Plate Award ceremony, namely the American Academy of Achievement.

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One selfie followed another: almost everyone at the NAM meeting in Washington wanted to take a photo with Nobel laureate Katalin Karikó.

In an exceptional community
The excitement of taking photos did not abate. NAM members stood around the tables set up in the lobby, with refreshments in their hands, chatting. More and more people from among the newest members of the American Academy approached Katalin Karikó to greet her and take a photo with her. The crowd, the academics dressed for the occasion, and their guests all enjoyed this special opportunity to get together.

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Victor J. Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), welcomed the new members and their guests

Victor J. Dzau said that the group, which was elected to the American National Academy of Medicine in 2022, and has been celebrated on 7 October 2023, is an exceptional community. Katalin Karikó was the first to be greeted by the President of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) at the ceremony honouring the new members. The mRNA researcher, winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was greeted with thunderous applause by the academicians and their guests gathered in the huge conference hall of the NAM.

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Victor J. Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and NAM member Katalin Karikó, Nobel Prize-winning professor and alumna of SZTE

The new members of the American medical community received their NAM membership certificates at the inauguration ceremony in alphabetical order. The ceremony took place in the Fred Kavli Auditorium, the merits of the one hundred new scientists were summed up in "a hundred nutshell laudation."

Dr. Katalin Karikó is a professor at the University of Szeged, Hungary and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She contributed to the foundation of the first two FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines by discovering nucleoside-modified mRNA and developing a nucleoside-modified mRNA-lipid nanoparticle vaccine platform. These key discoveries have paved the way to end the global pandemic and could revolutionise medicine by enabling the development of effective and safe vaccines, therapies and gene therapies.

Katalin Karikó received a standing ovation and applause from her peers and guests as she received her NAM membership certificate.

More information about Katalin Karikó, research professor at the University of Szeged, is available on SZTE website, news portal, as well as on the website of SZTE Klebelsberg Library.


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