Indian student in US wins award for COVID-19 discovery
Indian student in US wins award for COVID-19 discovery Image Credit: Social media

A 14-year-old Indian-American girl has won a $25,000 (Dh91,825) award for her discovery that could provide a potential treatment for COVID-19. Sharing news reports, social media users congratulated Anika Chebrolu, an eighth-grader from Frisco in Texas, US, who won the annual Young Scientist Challenge.

The Young Scientist Challenge is a youth science and engineering competition by Discovery Education and 3M, an American manufacturing company based in Minnesota, for middle school students in the United States, similar to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists.

Chebrolu submission used the “in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus in an attempt to find a cure for the coronavirus pandemic”, according to the 3M website.

According to international news reports, Chebrolu decided to take part in the Young Scientist Challenge after she battled a severe influenza infection last year. She wanted to find a cure for influenza. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she decided to focus on a cure for the novel coronavirus.

Chebrolu, one of the 10 finalists in this year's challenge, worked with scientist Dr Mahfuza Ali. Together, they transformed her idea from concept to reality. Dr Ali, who mentored Chebrolu one-on-one throughout the summer, helped Chebrolu perfect her innovation through the scientific method, and she presented her project to a judging panel of scientists and leaders. Each finalist was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation.

"Science is the basis of life and the entire universe and we have a long way to understand it fully," said Chebrolu, who wants to become a medical researcher and professor.

Talking about the project to CNN, Chebrolu said: "…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."

Chebrolu said she was inspired to find potential cures to viruses after learning about the 1918 flu pandemic and finding out how many people die every year in the US despite annual vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs on the market.

“I would like to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of my lead drug candidate,” she added.

Dr Cindy Moss, a judge for the competition, told CNN: "Chebrolu 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.”

Chebrolu said that winning the prize and the title was an honour, but her work isn't done. Her next goal, she says, 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.

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

With inputs from PTI