A 14-Year-Old Student Just Made a Discovery That Could Lead to a COVID-19 Treatment

A Texas teen has won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and a $25K prize for her work that could lead to a potential therapy for COVID-19.

3M Anika
Photo: 3M

All around the globe, medical researchers are working on COVID-19 vaccines and cures. Now, a 14-year-old from Frisco, Texas is being lauded for a discovery that could lead to a coronavirus therapy. Anika Chebrolu has won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge—which includes a $25,000 prize—for her invention.

Chebrolu used in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to 3M. That spike protein plays an essential role in the infection process of COVID-19, so Chebrolu's invention aims to stop the virus in its first stages inside the human body.

The teen submitted her project when she was in eighth grade last year. But initially, her project didn't focus on COVID-19. Chebrolu aimed to use in-silico methods to identify a lead compound that could bind to a protein of another potentially deadly virus: influenza.

"I have always been amazed by science experiments since my childhood, and I was drawn towards finding effective cures for influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year," Chebrolu noted on 3M website.

Chebrolu explained to CNN she spent a great deal of time researching pandemics, viruses, and drug discovery. "It was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this," she said. "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."

Chebrolu said she aims to work alongside scientists and researchers who are fighting to "control the morbidity and mortality" of the pandemic by working to turn her findings into a COVID-19 cure.

"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," the teen said. "How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts."

Given her passion for learning and making a difference, it's no surprise Chebrolu took home the prize. As Dr. Cindy Moss, a judge for the contest, told CNN, the teen has "an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for COVID-19." She continued, "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."

Leave it to a teen girl to do anything she puts her mind to.

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