Inheritance & Variation of Traits, Inheritance 2: Role of DNA (HS), Life Science, Non-NGSS Articles, S&F 1: Cells (MS), S&F 1: DNA to Proteins (HS), S&F 2: Cell Function (MS), S&F 3: Body Systems (MS), S&F 4: Stimuli Response (MS), Structure and Function

mRNA vaccines – a new era in vaccinology

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.243

SUMMARY: Traditional ways of making vaccines include using antigens and weakened or dead pathogens. While these methods have worked for us in the past, their application is limited. They don’t work against cancers and tumors and they can be expensive to produce. Using mRNA vaccines is a new and versatile way to create vaccines. This article talks about the mechanism of how mRNA vaccines work and explains in detail the different types of mRNA vaccines. Later sections talk about how researchers can use these types of vaccines against a multitude of diseases, including tumors and cancer. Research on mRNA vaccines goes back to the ‘90s, when researchers observed that mRNA injected into mice produced protein products in the blood. Today, one of the highly publicized SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is an mRNA vaccine being produced by Moderna.

LESSON COMMENTS: The introduction and the sections about the mechanism of mRNA vaccines (towards the beginning) are excellent references for students who have a solid grasp on protein synthesis. Teachers will need to introduce students to basic immunology (innate immune system, T-cell and B-cell activation, MHC I and II, and PAMPs are some key concepts), so this article is best suited for high school students. However, teachers can (if they wish) break down protein synthesis and immunology into language more suitable for middle school students. This article will also work for classes studying biochemistry as the transport method for mRNA depends a lot on the biochemical manipulations of the RNA itself and/or its carrier molecule.

Pardi, N., Hogan, M. J., Porter, F. W., & Weissman, D. (2018). mRNA vaccines – a new era in vaccinology. Nature reviews. Drug discovery, 17(4), 261–279. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd.2017.243

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