As scientists around the world hurry to develop a vaccine against Coronavirus, Anika Chebrolu, a 14-year old Indian origin girl from Texas, is leading the race.
Chebrolu has won $25,000 at the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a premier science competition in the United States, for developing a molecule that selectively binds to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus, preventing it from functioning. According to the 3M Challenge website, the eighth-grader used in-silico methodology for drug discovery.
Initially, Anika wanted to find a lead compound that could bind to a protein of the influenza virus. She has told the media that she was inspired to find potential cures to viruses after learning about the 1918 flu pandemic and the number of people that die every year in the US despite the availability of vaccinations and drugs.
“After spending so much time researching about pandemics, viruses, and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this”, Anika told CNN. “The last two days, I saw that there is a lot of media hype about my project since it involves the SARS-CoV-2 virus and it reflects our collective hopes to end this pandemic as I, like everyone else, wish that we go back to our normal lives soon,” she added.
3M, a Minnesota-based manufacturing company, believes in applying science to have a real impact on the world. They hold the 3M Young Scientist Challenge annually to invite young minds to find solutions to everyday problems. They guide 10 finalists every year, giving them a chance to win $25,000 and be mentored by the scientists at the company. Mahfuza Ali, a Corporate Scientist at 3M, had helped Anika through her brilliant discovery for the competition.
Dr. Cindy Moss, a judge at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge said about Anika, “Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases. She also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is a masterful communicator. Her willingness to use her time and talent to help make the world a better place gives us all hope.”
The teenager aspires to use this win as a stepping stone to becoming a doctor or a researcher. Anika recalled that it was her grandfather who piqued her interest in science. “My grandpa, when I was younger, pushed me toward science. He was a chemistry professor, and used to tell me to learn the periodic table of elements and learn all these things about science, and over time I just grew to love it," she has told reporters.
Chebrolu’s next goal is to work with scientists and researchers to develop her findings into a cure for the deadly virus. "How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts,” Anika added.
The pandemic has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide since the first case was reported in December 2019.
(Edited by Athira Nair)