After making a discovery that could answer the call for a COVID-19 cure, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was awarded $25,000.
Anika Chebrolu, an Indian-American middle schooler from Independence High School in Frisco, Texas presented her work suggesting the use of in-silico methodology for drug discovery in order to locate a molecule that can bind selectively to the spike protein of COVID-19's causative agent, SARS-CoV-2.
Chebrolu's discovery has received praise as it poses a possible cure for COVID-19 that has caused the global health crisis. Because of this, the eighth-grader won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which is known as the premier middle school science competition in the US. The award also came with a $25,000 cash prize.
According to Yahoo! News, Chebrolu decided to be part of the challenge after combating severe influenza last year. Her own illness inspired her to find a cure for influenza; however, everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Chebrolu also stated that she wanted to continue pursuing her drug development and conduct testing of her lead drug candidate through 3M scientists' help to possibly find the COVID-19 cure.
Aside from the prize money, Chebrolu's recognition as one of the 10 finalists of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge this year also came with exclusive mentorship from #M, a manufacturing company in Minnesota.
Over the summer, the eighth-grader worked with Dr. Mahfuza Ali, a 3M Corporate Scientists, who mentored her and helped transform her idea into reality, The Economic Times India, reported
Dr. Ali aided Cherbrolu in perfecting her innovative idea through the scientific method before presenting the project to a judging panel composed of leaders and scientists. During the presentation, all ten finalists were evaluated through several challenges and the completion of their innovation.
Moreover, Chebrolu said that being selected as the US's Top Young Scientist out of all the finalists was a very humbling experience.
In an interview with CNN, the young scientists stated that her project had received a lot of attention from the media since it involved COVID-19, which is still plaguing today's world. She also said that the attention she was getting reflects how everyone wants to find a solution to this problem and hopes to end the pandemic.
In addition, Chebrolu said that she found inspiration for her research after she learned about the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed millions of people; and the number of people in the US who die of influenza every year despite the huge efforts on vaccination.
However, Chebrolu noted that while she was honored to be named as the top young scientist, her work is not yet finished.
She is hoping to work alongside the researchers and scientists who are currently at the forefront of battling to control the mortality and morbidity brought by the pandemic by using her findings in possibly developing an actual cure for SARS-CoV-2.
"Science is the basis of life and the entire universe, and we have a long way to go understand it fully," said the eighth-grader who wants to be a medical researcher in the future.