This is the second installment of the Quaker Campus‘s monthly Good News Column
At only fourteen, Anika Chebrolu from Frisco, Texas, won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for developing a Sars-Cov-2 suppressor that could provide a potential therapy to COVID-19.
Sars-Cov-2, the scientific name for COVID-19 or the coronavirus, spreads when a small virus particle, made of proteins and RNA, its genetic code, enters the lungs and “spikes” its proteins from the inside out. This allows it to bind to and enter larger, healthy human cells it comes in contact with. Instead of replicating as normal, the way healthy cells do at a constant rate, the virus replicates itself instead, using its Sars-Cov-2 RNA code.
The virus, when replicating, can make hundreds of copies of itself, either as virus particles or spike proteins, which both spread the virus. The same idea holds for all viruses, including the common flu, or Influenza, which was the original inspiration for Anika Chebrolu.
Chebrolu’s original project was submitted only through her middle school, during the eighth grade, titled “Combatting the Influenza Epidemic: In-Silico Molecular Docking Study of the Hemagglutinin Protein to Develop a Novel Antiviral Drug.” However, after seeing the effects of the coronavirus, such as in America, the country she calls home, with over 200,000 COVID-19 cases, she changed her focus from Influenza to COVID-19.
“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, changed directions to target the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Chebrolu.
The previously mentioned scientific framework is what Chebrolu used for her 3M Young Scientist Challenge project, “In-Silico Molecular Docking Study of the Sars-Cov-2 Virus to Develop a Novel Antiviral Drug.” Similar to the Influenza project, Chebrolu isolated a lead compound from a large database, this time from “almost 698 million molecules,” said Chebrolu. Chebrolu’s molecule binds to a protein on the Sar-Cov-2 virus and deactivates the protein, which would otherwise spread COVID-19 through the body.
3M, which awarded Chebrolu $25,000 for the Young Scientist Challenge, is an American manufacturing company based in Minnesota. According to their site, Chebrolu stated her reasoning for entering their contest to be: “I have always been amazed by science experiments since my childhood and I was drawn towards finding effective cures for Influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year. I would like to learn more from 3M scientists to pursue my drug development and with their help, would like to conduct in-vitro and in-vivo testing of my lead drug candidate.”
According to Dr. Cindy Moss, a judge for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, the young winner “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.”
Despite Chebrolu’s monumental discovery, she believes her work is far from over. She aspires to one day work in the medical field as a researcher, doctor, or professor. However, for now, she spends her free time outside working in a lab practicing Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance and creating art. “I’m a person who aspires to be a lot of things,” she told CNN.
Hopefully, we will see Chebrolu’s molecule developed into treatment soon.
Featured image: Courtesy of nationalheraldindia.com