Photo: David and Ann Brandwein with Melissa Moore, chief scientific officer at Moderna.
After a genetic issue impacted several generations of her family, Esther Brandwein turned to UConn Health for answers. She was so impressed by the support she received, she decided to endow a fund with the UConn Foundation to recognize outstanding research in the field. Nearly 25 years later, the Herbert and Esther Bennett Brandwein Award in Genetic Research honored a breakthrough that may have seemed unimaginable at the time of the original donation.
Moderna Chief Scientific Officer Melissa J. Moore, who led the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, received the award from Dr. Brenton Graveley, professor and chair of UConn Health’s Department of Genetics and Genome Science on Friday, Sept. 30. The award presentation preceded Moore’s talk, “mRNA as Medicine,” which was made possible by Brandwein’s generosity.
Moore described the technology behind the vaccine, which uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to carry instructions to the body to produce the spike protein that fights COVID-19. The vaccine is widely credited with saving millions of lives during the pandemic. She is now focused on developing mRNA vaccines and treatments to combat HIV, heart disease, rare diseases, and autoimmune diseases. Esther Brandwein’s son David says his late mother would have been amazed to learn about this type of progress during the lecture bearing her name.
“She would be blown away by how far science has come, not only in 25 years but even in five years,” says David Brandwein. “She would have a big smile on her face.”
“My parents were of very limited means,” Brandwein continues. “But my mother saw something in a newspaper that said the State of Connecticut was doing a match. She donated $25,000. That still amazes me because it was so far above and beyond anything I thought she could reasonably do.”
Brandwein looks forward to recognizing other genetic research pioneers in the future.