14-year-old Texas girl invents potential COVID-19 treatment, wins $25k

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

Vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir are capped at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, U.S. March 18, 2020. (photo credit: GILEAD SCIENCES INC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir are capped at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, U.S. March 18, 2020.
(photo credit: GILEAD SCIENCES INC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Anika Chebrolu, a 14-year-old from Frisco, Texas, won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge last week, along with $25,000 in prize money for a discovery that could provide a potential therapy to COVID-19.
Chebrolu's winning invention uses in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Chebrolu submitted her discovery when she was still in eighth grade. Initially, her goal was to use in-silico methods to identify a lead compound that could bind to a protein of the influenza virus.
"From the initial 3 million compounds, I was able to narrow it down to one potential drug candidate that can successfully bind and selectively inhibit the Hemagglutinin protein of the influenza virus, and can be further developed as a novel therapy for the treatment of influenza," Anika said in her submission video.
However, once the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc across the globe, Anika decided to shift course. "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 explained.
"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," she added.
Anika says that her next goal is to work alongside scientists and researchers who are fighting to "control the morbidity and mortality" of the pandemic by developing 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," she said.
"Anika has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for Covid-19," Dr. Cindy Moss, a judge for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, told CNN.
"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."