Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 20, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On 20 March, Harvard University and Oxford University professors Dan Barouch from the US and Sarah Gilbert from the UK received the King Faisal Prize for Medicine in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for their innovative vaccine technologies. They developed Covid–19 vaccines, which saved millions of lives. Furthermore, Northwestern University Professor, Chad Mirkin, and the A*STAR Senior Fellow and Director at NanoBio Lab, Professor Jackie Yi–Ru Ying, were awarded the Science Prize for helping define the modern age of nanotechnology and for their various advancements and applications of nanomaterials.
Professor Dan Barouch; the Director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the William Bosworth Castle Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Professor Sarah Gilbert; the Sad Chair of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University, employed a novel technology in developing Covid–19 viral vectors vaccines: the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Oxford""AstraZeneca vaccine, respectively.
Novel Vaccine Technology and Quick Response to the Pandemic
Instead of the traditional vaccines' methods which use a weakened or killed form of the original infection and require a long time to develop in the human body, professors Dan Barouch and Sarah Gilbert genetically modified a harmless version of a different virus to carry genetic material to body cells and deliver protection. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was based on engineering a harmless adenovirus (called Ad26) which was a common type of virus that caused mild cold symptoms..
In his acceptance speech during the ceremony, Professor Barouch said, "The Ad26 vaccine for COVID–19 demonstrated robust efficacy in humans, even after a single shot, and showed continued protection against virus variants that emerged. This vaccine has been rolled out across the world by the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, and over 200 million people have received this vaccine, particularly in the developing world".
Like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the essence of the Oxford""AstraZeneca vaccine, (called ChAdOx1 nCoV–19), is a genetically modified weakened version of a common virus which caused a cold in chimpanzees and no infection when injected in humans. The modified virus in both vaccines carried the genetic instructions for the coronavirus spike protein. When entering the body cells, the virus used a genetic code or instructions to produce the specific surface spike protein of the coronavirus inducing an immune response and preparing the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.
Both vaccines were achieved in few months of work; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine required 13 months and the Oxford""AstraZeneca vaccine took 10 months of work. This was due to previous research work and clinical trials to develop vaccine candidates for multiple pathogens of global significance. The development of the Ad26 vaccine platform, which was the base for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, came as a result of Dan Barouch's accumulated work on HIV, Zika virus, and tuberculosis. He is considered a pioneer in the creation of a series of vaccine platform technologies that can be used when developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID–19. Moreover, Barouch led the world's first demonstration of Zika vaccine protection in preclinical studies and launched a series of phase 1 Zika vaccine clinical trials.
Likewise, the Oxford""AstraZeneca vaccine's innovative technologies were also applied by Sarah Gilbert to Malaria, Ebola, Influenza, and MERS, with clinical trials of the latter taking place in the UK and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In fact, the patented ChAdOx1 technology was developed by Professor Gilbert and other researchers at the University of Oxford in 2012. In 2014, she led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine after a large outbreak of the disease in West Africa.
"I am humbled to join the other 2023 laureates today, and to follow–in the footsteps of the men and women whose work has been recognized by the Foundation over more than four decades. This award is in recognition of my work to co–create a vaccine for COVID–19. A low–cost, accessible, efficacious vaccine that has now been used in more than 180 countries and is estimated to have saved more than six million lives by the start of 2022", said Professor Gilbert in her acceptance speech during the awarding ceremony.
Nanotechnology Inventions Topping 100 Scientific Discoveries that Changed the World
In this year's King Faisal Prize for Science about "Chemistry", Professor Chad Mirkin (from the US); the Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and the Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Medicine, Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University, and Professor Jackie Yi–Ru Ying (from the US); the A*STAR Senior Fellow and Director at NanoBio Lab, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, received the prize.
The work of Professor Chad Mirkin, which has been at the forefront of nano chemistry for over three decades, has helped define the modern age of nanotechnology. He is widely recognized for his invention of spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), which are nanostructures composed of nucleic acids in a spherical configuration which enter human cells and tissues and overcome biological barriers, making it possible to detect or treat a disease on the genetic level. More than 1,800 products for medical diagnostics, therapeutics, and life science research were based on this technology. "One vital component of our work aims to use nanotechnology to restructure DNA and RNA into forms that make them more potent medicines for treating debilitating types of cancer and neurological disease. Through this work, we hope to usher in a new era of powerful and precision genetic medicines where we can attack and treat disease at its genetic routes", said Mirkin in his acceptance speech.
Professor Mirkin has over 1,200 patent applications worldwide. He also founded several companies, including Nanosphere, AuraSense, TERA–print, Azul 3D, MattIQ, and Flashpoint Therapeutics. He pioneered artificial intelligence–based materials discovery inventing a method to create patterns directly on different substances with a variety of inks called "dip–pen nanolithography", which was described by National Geographic as one of the "top 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world". He also developed HARP (high–area rapid printing) technology, a 3D printing process that can manufacture different products like ceramics at record–breaking throughput.
As for Professor Jackie Yi–Ru Ying, her research focused on synthesis of advanced nanomaterials and systems, and their application in biomedicine, energy conversion, and catalysis. Her inventions have been used to solve challenges in different fields of medicine, chemistry, and energy. "I am deeply honored to be receiving the King Faisal Prize in Science, especially as the first female recipient of this award," she said in her acceptance speech.
Her development of stimuli–responsive polymeric nanoparticles led to a technology which can autoregulate the release of insulin, depending on the blood glucose levels in diabetic patients without the need for external blood glucose monitoring. Dr. Ying's laboratory has pioneered the synthesis of mesoporous and microporous transition metal oxides; a class of nanomaterials used in energy storage and conversion, by supramolecular templating (organizing or assembling entities).
Dr. Ying has more than 180 primary patents and patent applications; 32 of which have been licensed to multinational and start–up companies for a range of applications in nanomedicine, drug delivery, cell and tissue engineering, medical implants, biosensors, medical devices, and others. Her work is at the intersection of nanotechnology and technical medicine and has culminated in the establishment of six successful start–ups and spinoff companies.
Four Exceptional Thinkers and Leaders Recognized in Arabic Language & Literature, Islamic Studies, and Service to Islam
Along with Medicine and Science, the King Faisal Prize recognized outstanding thinkers and scholars in Arabic Language & Literature and Islamic Studies this year and honored exemplary leaders who have contributed to serve Islam, Muslims, and humanity.
Professor Abdelfattah Kilito, from Morocco, received the "Arabic Language & Literature" prize focusing on "Classical Arabic Narrative and Modern Theories". He has been a visiting professor and lecturer at the New Sorbonne, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Oxford, and the College de France. Professor Robert Hillenbrand, from the UK, Honorary Professorial Fellow in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) at the University of Edinburgh, was awarded the "Islamic Studies" prize in "Islamic Architecture". His work was distinguished by its geographic and temporal expansiveness, which covered North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Central Asia, and spanned from the early Islamic period till the 19th Century. As for the "Service to Islam" Prize, Professor Choi Young Kil–Hamed (from South Korea) and His Excellency Shaikh Nasser bin Abdullah Al Zaabi (from the UAE) were this year's laureates.
Since 1979, King Faisal Prize in its 5 different categories has awarded 290 laureates who have made distinguished contributions to different sciences and causes. Each prize laureate is endowed with USD 200 thousand; a 24–carat gold medal weighing 200 grams, and a Certificate inscribed with the Laureate's name and a summary of their work which qualified them for the prize.
- Professor Chad Mirkin, King Faisal Prize in Science 2023 Laureate
- Professor Sarah Gilbert, King Faisal Prize in Medicine 2023 Laureate
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