Has a 14-year-old Indian-American girl made a discovery that can fight off Covid-19?

20 October 2020 By Paul Martin

As the whole world eagerly waits for a vaccine to offer protection against Covid-19, a discovery by an Indian-American teenager might show a way forward.

Anika Chebrolu, age 14, won the Young Scientist Challenge — regarded as the US’s premier middle school science competition — for work that could provide a breakthrough therapy.

According to the 3M Challenge website, Chebrolu’s work uses an “in-silico methodology” to discover a molecule that can bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

That in turn stops the virus spreading.

The teenager decided to compete in the Young Scientist Challenge after she battled a severe influenza infection last year.

She had wanted to find a cure for influenza. However, all that changed after the pandemic struck early this year, the website said.

“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 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,” she added.

Chebrolu also bagged prize money of 25,000 US dollars.

Dr Cindy Moss, one of the judges for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, said that Chebrolu has an inquisitive mind.

“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,” Moss was quoted as saying by the website.

The 14-year-old also said she was inspired to find potential cures to viruses after finding out how many people die from flu every year in the United States despite vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs being available on the market.

Chebrolu also says that even though the winning title and prize money is an honour, her work isn’t quite done yet. Her next goal, she says, is to work alongside scientists and researchers who can develop her findings into an actual cure for the virus.

“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,” Chebrolu said.

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