Scientists around the world have been working tirelessly to try to find ways to fight against COVID-19. Among the people studying various defenses against the virus is a 14-year-old Texas teenager who just won a prestigious national competition thanks to her research into the illness’s molecular makeup.
Anika Chebrolu, a student at Independence High School in Frisco, Texas, was named the winner of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Not only does that earn her bragging rights among some of the brightest young minds in the world, but she also gets a $25,000 prize. The competition showcased the top 10 final projects virtually on Oct. 12-13.
Her potentially groundbreaking work has caught the attention of leaders around the world, including Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President of India. He offered his congratulations via Twitter.
Congratulations to 14- year-old Indian-American, Anika Chebrolu from Texas for winning 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge and a $25,000 prize for her work on potential therapy for #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/oEPIoxn8an
— Vice President of India (@VPSecretariat) October 19, 2020
Chebrolu’s research involved the creation of a potential treatment of COVID-19 that works at the molecular level of the virus.
“I developed this molecule that can bind to a certain protein on the SARS COVID-2 virus,” Chebrolu told CBS 11 in Dallas-Fort Worth. “This protein by binding to it it will stop the function of the protein … I started with a database of over 682 million compounds.”
The young scientist originally submitted her project idea to the competition last year and she had a different focus: the flu virus. However, as the coronavirus began to spread quickly around the world, Chebrolu knew she had to change the direction of her research.
“Because of the immense severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic impact it had made on the world in such a short time, I, with the help of my mentor, changed directions to target the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” she told CNN.
The impact of this research is yet to be known, but 3M and Discovery Education believe it shows a lot of promise.
“Anika discovered a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2,” the companies said in a press release. “Binding and inhibiting this viral protein would potentially stop the virus entry into the cell, creating a viable drug target. In her research, Anika screened millions of small molecules for drug-likeness properties, ADMET [absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicity] properties, and binding affinities against the spike protein using numerous software tools. The one molecule with the best pharmacological and biological activity towards the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was chosen as the lead molecule that can be a potential drug for the effective treatment of COVID-19.”
The newly-crowned winner said her work isn’t finished despite the competition’s completion.
“My effort to find a lead compound to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but still adds to all these efforts,” she said. “How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts.”
Congrats to Anika! We can’t wait to see if her discovery leads to a therapy that benefits everyone’s health.