The genius girl is Anika Chebrolu from Frisco, Texas.
He used computer modeling to look for compounds that bind tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spike protein.
The spike protein is a spike-like structure on the surface of the corona virus. These spikes are what connect the virus to human cells and trigger infection.
In theory, such compounds should prevent viruses from infecting cells.
Reported Science Alert, Thursday (22/10/2020), when designing new antiviurs drugs, scientists often carry out computational studies – like Chebrolu’s – as a first step.
For his impressive work, Chebrolu was awarded first prize in 3M Young Scientist Challenge 2020, science competition in USA for high school students.
3M Young Scientist Challenge winner, Anika Chebrolu, featured on CNN’s homepage! Congratulations to Anika! It was an incredible year—hat’s off to all of the finalists! # 3MYSC #YoungScientist @ 3M @DiscoveryEd pic.twitter.com/knX5H6RNTS
– Ann Fornof (@ann_fornof) October 19, 2020
Chebrolu registered for the contest months ago while still in high school, with the initial intention of studying influenza, according to a video interview with KTVT, affiliates CBS.
“Because the Covid-19 pandemic was so severe and had a huge impact on the world in a short time, I, with the help of my mentor, changed the direction of the research (which was studying influenza) to target the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” he told CNN.
Meanwhile, according to Cindy Moss, who was the jury for 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Chebrolu was awarded the award for his comprehensive work and has reviewed many databases.
“He also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is an expert communicator. His willingness to use time and talent to help the world gives us all hope,” said Moss, who is senior director of the global STEM initiative for Discovery Education. CNN.
Chebrolu received a prize of around IDR 367 million for winning this year’s competition.
Identifying the molecules that bind to SARS-CoV-2 is a long and hard work.
“I started with a database of more than 698 million compounds,” Chebrolu told KTVT.
He looked at hundreds of millions of these compounds, through repeated screenings on a computer, to assess their binding ability, molecular structure and characteristics.
In essence, he looked at how these compounds would break down in the human body and whether they could be toxic to human cells.
Each screen narrows his search, until he is left with a single lead compound that can bind to the coronavirus and prevent it from infecting cells.
In addition to the coronavirus study, Chebrolu also completed the influenza study he initially submitted to the competition.
“I am interested in finding an effective cure for influenza after last year’s severe bout of infection,” he said in a statement on the competition website.
“From the initial 3 million compounds, I can narrow it down to one potential drug candidate that selectively binds to and inhibits the influenza virus,” he said in his video entry for the competition.
Chebrolu told CNN that he wants to work with scientists to develop a candidate drug into a complete drug that helps tame this viral infection.
“My attempt to find a lead compound to bind to the protein spike of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it still adds to all this effort,” he told CNN.
“How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of this effort.”
In 15 years, Chebrolu hopes to become a medical researcher and professor.
In his spare time, he sketches and studies Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance style.
“I describe myself as a person who aspires to be many things,” Chebrolu told KTVT.