Anika discovered a drug that binds to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, potentially preventing the virus from infecting and reproducing in the human body. (Image Credit: 3M)
As the pandemic is ongoing across the globe, scientists are rallying to find a cure for the coronavirus, which has killed over 1.1 million people worldwide. One person who stands out in the effort to stop the spread is 14-year-old Anika Chebrolu from Frisco, Texas. Anika discovered a potential anti-coronavirus drug that attaches to SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 causing virus, and brings it to a standstill. She won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge and took home a $25,000 prize for this amazing achievement.
This project was submitted when Anika was in the 8th grade, but her goal wasn't to find a COVID-19 cure. Instead, she was inspired to discover potential cures for other viruses after learning about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. She also found out how many people die annually in the US, regardless of vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs.
Anika's innovation uses in-silicon modeling (using computer simulations to perform experiments) to go through millions of molecules that could bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Spike proteins are found on the surface of viruses, allowing them to invade host cells and start an infection. If they're blocked, the virus won't infect and reproduce in human cells. This process is required for a virus to cause damage.
Anika identified a drug that selectively binds to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which can help fight off infection. Identifying the active component is just the beginning of the lengthy process of drug creation and testing. This discovery could be imperative in the search for an anti-coronavirus drug.
She says winning the prize and title of the top young scientist is an honor, but still has more work to do. Next, she wants to work with scientists and researchers to develop a COVID-19 cure by using her discovery.
"Amidst the challenges of a global pandemic, quality STEM education for all has become an even more urgent need, and 3M's commitment to fostering the next generation of science leaders has never been more determined," said Denise Rutherford, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at 3M. "In spite of challenges, like adjusting to new norms of distance learning and participating in virtual events, this year's 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists have smashed through barriers with grit, creativity, innovative thinking, and excitement – all in the name of applying science to improve lives. 3M is inspired by these young innovators, and we celebrate each one of them. Our heartfelt congratulations go to this year's winner, Anika Chebrolu, and our many thanks to all our 3M Young Scientist Challenge finalists."
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