The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has signaled the tide of change for the world as we know it and has immensely disrupted our everyday lives. Considering the surge in cases day by day, ‘when will we get a Covid-19 vaccine’ is perhaps the most searched query on the internet. The resulting page hosts a grim one-liner by the World Health Organization (WHO): “To date, there are no specific vaccines or medicines for COVID-19. Treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials.”

As the world ardently waits for a medical innovation or a virus-fighting jab, which could prevent coronavirus from infecting masses, an unexpected hero is hot on the trail for finding answers. Meet Anika Chebrolu, a 14-year-old Indian-American teen from Texas, who has just won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge – and a $25,000 prize – for a discovery that could provide a potential therapy to Covid-19. Anika has developed a molecule that can selectively bind to the Spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and prevent it from functioning. She utilized in-silico methodology for drug discovery to find the molecule.

Although her initial research was aimed at finding ways to use in-silico methods to identify a lead compound that could bind to a protein of the influenza virus, she changed course and went on to attempt finding a cure for Covid-19. In an interview with CNN, Anika explained how she made the decision. “After spending so much time researching pandemics, viruses and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this,” Anika said. “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 (Dr. Mahfuza Ali), changed directions to target the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Her research findings have earned her praise from numerous scientists and shown the world just how beneficial it is to invest in young women, especially in STEM fields. However, she’s not quite done yet. Anika says her next goal is to work hand in hand with those on the front lines 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 told CNN. “How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts.”

Citations:

“2020 Video Challenge Entry: Young Scientist Lab.” 2020 Video Challenge Entry | Young Scientist Lab,
www.youngscientistlab.com/entry/2397.

Elassar, Alaa. “This 14-Year-Old Girl Won a $25K Prize for a Discovery That Could Lead to a Cure for Covid-19.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Oct. 2020,
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/18/us/anika-chebrolu-covid-treatment-award-scn-trnd/index.html

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