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VUMC researchers involved in developing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine featured in Smithsonian exhibit

Nov. 23, 2021, 4:03 PM


by Bill Snyder

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who contributed to the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine are featured in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., called “FUTURES.”

The 32,000-square-foot, interactive exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building opened on Nov. 20. It invites visitors to “smell a molecule … travel through space and time … and watch water being harvested from air.”

The vaccine exhibit describes the collaboration between Moderna Inc. and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center, part of the National Institutes of Health, which led to development of one of the first two mRNA vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19.

In December 2020, just 11 months after the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use the Moderna vaccine and another mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

The exhibit heralds the achievement as “one of the most remarkable scientific breakthroughs of recent times.” It highlights the work of NIAID scientists led by Barney Graham, MD, PhD, and Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, now at the Harvard TC Chan School of Public Health.

A “Zoom portrait” features other contributors from academia, industry and the government, including four from VUMC: Mark Denison, MD, Jim Chappell, MD, PhD, Laura Stevens, MS, and Andrea Pruijssers, PhD.

An internationally known coronavirus expert, Denison is the Edward Claiborne Stahlman Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Chappell, research professor of Pediatrics, directs vaccine and antibody studies in the Denison laboratory. Pruijssers, now at Merck, was the lab’s lead antiviral scientist.

They and their colleagues at VUMC analyzed the ability of the Moderna vaccine to stimulate robust immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 in a phase 1 clinical trial.

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