A picture of Dr. Drew Weissman with the text Nobel laureate and world-renowned researcher to keynote “mRNA Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Symposium”

Nobel laureate researcher to speak at UTMB symposium on vaccines, infectious diseases

World-renowned researcher Dr. Drew Weissman will address the “mRNA Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Symposium” hosted by the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity.  

UTMB is a global leader in infectious diseases research with strong teams and programs dedicated to vaccine development, including mRNA vaccines. The symposium is intended to promote mRNA vaccine and therapeutics research and education at UTMB and to foster collaboration with the Weissman Laboratory.

Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

He and fellow Penn scientist Dr. Katalin Karikó were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine for their discoveries that enabled the modified mRNA technology being used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's vaccines for COVID-19.

“Dr. Weissman is a pioneer and a leading scientist in mRNA vaccine research,” said Dr. Haitao Hu, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB and a former graduate student in the Weissman Laboratory. “Having him as the keynote speaker will not only foster his collaboration with UTMB but also provide an opportunity for investigators and trainees to be exposed to cutting-edge research in this area.”

More than 15 years ago at Penn Medicine, Weissman and Karikó found a way to modify mRNA and later developed a delivery technique to ensure it could reach the proper part of the body and trigger the immune system to fight disease.

Weissman and his team currently are working on a vaccine to stop the next coronavirus epidemic, a universal flu vaccine and a vaccine to prevent herpes.  

They also are working with their Penn colleagues to develop cancer therapeutics with mRNA technology and developing a SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine with a university in Thailand to help residents of Thailand and surrounding nations access lifesaving vaccines.

Weissman will open the symposium with his keynote address, “Nucleoside modified mRNA-LNP therapeutics.” Other presentations and speakers include:

  • “Immune responses to vaccines against emerging viral infections,” Dr. Alexander Bukreyev, professor of Pathology and Microbiology & Immunology, UTMB
  • “Structural basis for the accurate decoding of the genetic code by post- transcriptionally modified tRNAs,” Dr. Matthieu Gagnon, assistant professor of Microbiology & Immunology, UTMB
  • “Development of broadly protective mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Dr. Haitao Hu, associate professor of Microbiology & Immunology, UTMB
  • “Trials, triumphs and tribulations: Clinical insights into COVID-19 vaccines and public hesitancy,” Dr. Megan Berman, Associate Professor of Medicine, UTMB

“Attendees to the symposium are expected to gain a better understanding of current status and future directions of mRNA research in infectious diseases and to find new opportunities to collaborate,” Hu said. “The symposium will also provide a platform for trainees to interact with leading scientists and investigators in the field.”

The mRNA vaccine has achieved unprecedented success in vaccine history in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, mRNA as a platform has broad implications for development of novel vaccines and therapeutics against a variety of diseases.

Several UTMB teams and laboratories have played crucial roles in discovery, development and implementation of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, and such efforts are ongoing to combat other infectious diseases and to prepare for future outbreaks.