A 14-year-old Indian-American girl has won a USD 25,000 young scientist challenge for a discovery that could provide a potential treatment for COVID-19. An eighth grader from Frisco in Texas, Anika Chebrolu won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which is regarded as the US’ premier middle school science competition.
Anika won for her work using in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus in an attempt to find a cure for the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 3M Challenge website. It is an American manufacturing company based in Minnesota.
Anika decided to take part in the Young Scientist Challenge after she battled a severe influenza infection last year. She wanted to find a cure for influenza. However, that all changed after the pandemic hit this year, the website said. I was drawn towards finding effective cures for influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year, she said.
She also added “I would like to learn more from 3M scientists to pursue my drug development and with their help, would like to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of my lead drug candidate.”
She was one of the 10 finalists in this year’s 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In addition to the prize money, she was also awarded an exclusive 3M Mentorship. As a finalist, she worked with 3M Corporate Scientist Dr Mahfuza Ali, who mentored Chebrolu one-on-one throughout the summer. Together, they transformed her idea from concept to reality.
Dr Ali helped her perfect her innovation through the scientific method, and she presented her project to a judging panel of scientists and leaders. Each finalist was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation.
“I am extremely humbled at being selected America’s Top Young Scientist as all of the finalists had amazing projects and were extremely well-rounded individuals,” Anika said.
“Science is the basis of life and the entire universe and we have a long way to go understand it fully,” said Anika, who wants to become a medical researcher and professor.
Anika said she was inspired to find potential cures to viruses after learning about the 1918 flu pandemic and finding out how many people die every year in the US despite annual vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs on the market.
Her next goal, she says, is to work alongside scientists and researchers who are fighting to “control the morbidity and mortality” of the pandemic by developing her findings into an actual cure for the virus.
“How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts,” she said.