What were you doing in eighth grade? I think I was watching a lot of Nick at Nite and eating a lot of Chex Mix. Anika Chebrolu, on the other hand, may have discovered a treatment for COVID-19.
The 14-year-old high school freshman from Frisco, Texas, just won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which came with $25,000, for her discovery that could lead scientists to develop an effective therapy treatment for COVID-19, the disease causes by the novel coronavirus.
In her submission video, Anika explains that she used "in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus," reports CNN.
Anika, who submitted her project when she was in eighth grade, was originally focused on a treatment for the influenza virus, which kills thousands every year. But once the pandemic hit, she shifted her focus to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus.
"After spending so much time researching about pandemics, viruses, and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I as 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."
As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the U.S. and around the world, all eyes have turned to this 14-year-old's wildly impressive discovery. Anika said, "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."
More than a million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, and more than 219,000 of those deaths were in the United States. But it was the 1918 flu pandemic and her own battle with a pretty severe case of the flu that first inspired Anika to start researching and trying to find cures for viruses.
Dr. Cindy Moss, a judge for the 3M Young Scientists Challenge, said, "Anika has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for COVID-19. 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."
Even though Anika won the competition, she doesn't believe her work is done. Next, she wants to work with scientists and researchers to help translate her discovery into an actual treatment for the virus.
She told CNN, "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. How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts."
Whether or not Anika's work actually leads to an effective treatment for the virus, it's clear that Anika is a super smart kid with a very bright future ahead of her. If she is making discoveries like this at 14 years of age, imagine where she will go next.