Anika Chebrolu of Frisco, from Texas, has been named “America’s Top Young Scientist” for identifying a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Anika Chebrolu, 14, was named the winner of the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a competition for middle school scientists. Anikas project won her a $25,000 cash prize.
The young scientist hopes to one day save lives with her research on a potential treatment for the coronavirus, the disease that has so far infected more than 40 million people and claimed more than one million lives.
To identify the binding molecule, Chebrolu used in-silico methodology for drug discovery. Binding the virus’s spike protein is important because inhibiting this protein can potentially stop the virus from entering a healthy cell. Chebrolu used software to screen millions of potential molecules for drug-likeness and ADMET properties, as well as their ability to bind to the spike protein. The molecule with the most binding ability was then chosen as a potential drug candidate.
“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,” Chebrolu told CNN.
“I isolated a lead compound from a database of almost 698 million molecules,” said Chebrolu.
That discovery, which she hopes will lead to a new weapon against COVID-19, began two years ago while Chebrolu was researching the Spanish flu pandemic.
“I just wanted to help the world and let children know that they can do whatever they want to accomplish,” she said.
Teenager hopes to be a medical researcher and professor in the future, she is already doing grown-up work and inspiring a generation to reach for the stars.