An Indian-American teen from Texas found a molecule that could help with finding a cure for COVID-19. It won her the title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist.
Anika Chebrolu, 14, from Nelson Middle School in Frisco, Texas, used in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to find a cure for the coronavirus, a press release from 3M and Discovery Education said.
Chebrolu walked away with the $25,000 grand prize as the winner of the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the nation’s premier middle school science competition, which identified the Top Ten named in the prestigious competition.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide and was declared a worldwide pandemic and public health emergency earlier this year. With the virus continuing to spread everywhere, there is an urgent need to find an effective anti-coronavirus drug.
According to the press release, the molecule Chebrolu identified, “would potentially stop the virus entry into the cell, creating a viable drug target,” because of its ability to bind and inhibit the viral protein.
In her research, Chebrolu screened millions of small molecules for drug-likeness properties, ADMET properties, and binding affinities against the spike protein using numerous software tools.
The one molecule with the best pharmacological and biological activity towards the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was chosen as the lead molecule that can be a potential drug for the effective treatment of COVID-19, the press release said.
Chebrolu was also selected as the recipient of the competition’s Improving Lives Award; the competition’s public voting process recognizes one project from the top ten that has the potential to change the most lives. Chebrolu was selected through an online public vote from September 28 – October 9, 2020.
Six other Indian American teens were among the Top Ten, each received a $1,000 prize and a $500 gift card.
In third place among the top ten, was Indian American teen, Laasya Acharya, a seventh-grader at Mason Middle School in Mason City School District from Mason, Ohio. Laasya used a neural network to detect crop diseases through image analysis.
Other Indian-Americans in the Top Ten were –
Rithvik Ijju from Englewood, Colo., an eighth-grader at Challenge School in the Cherry Creek School District 5;
Ekansh Mittal from Beaverton, Ore., an eighth-grader at Meadow Park Middle School in the Beaverton School District;
Harsha Pillarisetti from San Ramon, Calif., an eighth-grader at Windemere Ranch Middle School in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District;
Samhita Pokkunuri from Old Bridge, N.J., a seventh-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School in the Old Bridge Township Public School District;
And Samvrit Rao from Ashburn, Va., a seventh-grader at Stone Hill Middle School in the Loudoun County Public School District.
The virtual event was held October 12-13, 2020. Each finalist – aged 12-14 – was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed innovation.
Over the past few months, each 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists worked one-on-one with a 3M scientist who played the role of mentor to transform their idea from concept to physical prototype.
Chebrolu was paired with Mahfuza Ali, PhD, a 3M corporate scientist in the materials resource division and a recent Carlton Society inductee.
Apart from the $25,000 cash prize, and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist,” Chebrolu also gets a special destination trip.
The second and third place winners each received a $1,000 prize and a special destination trip. This year’s winner, two runners up, and their mentors also as is traditionally done, got to ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange but in a virtual event on October 15 at 4:00 p.m. EST.