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Anika Chebrolu Is 14 and Just Won $25,000 for a Discovery That Might Help Cure COVID

Anika Chebrolu in front of a science graphic

While mega corporations and thousands of scientists toil on cures and therapies for COVID-19, it’s a 14-year-old girl who’s making news today with a discovery that could provide a potential treatment for the virus that has turned the world upside down. Anika Chebrolu won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge with her work with a potential cure for the coronavirus.

It’s easy to tell how brilliant this young woman is, just due to the fact that explaining her project requires a pretty deep understanding of (I think?) microbiology or organic chemistry. Anika, who in Indian American and lives in Frisco, Texas, submitted the project when she was in 8th grade, and at the time, it was only focused on the flu. But with the help of her mentor in the Young Scientist program, Anika adjusted her focus when COVID hit.

SO what was Anika’s winning project? “Anika 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 in an attempt to find a cure for the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to 3M. I don’t understand any of that, but it sounds amazing! Here’s Anika herself explaining it better:

Anika’s discovery is a molecule that bonds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and stops it from infecting people! That’s AMAZING. Anika’s molecule stops could stop COVID-19 in its tracks by limiting the function of the virus. So yeah … a 14-year-old girl has done something truly incredible here.

Anika accomplished this with the support of the 3M Young Scientist Lab and her mentor Dr. Mufaza Ali. Overall the entire competition is full of some truly amazing kids doing amazing work, but Anika’s stands out for its potential to save thousands, if not millions of lives. She’s taking it all in stride though, telling CNN: “The last two days, I saw that there is a lot of media hype about my project since it involves the SARS-CoV-2 virus and it reflects our collective hopes to end this pandemic as I, like everyone else, wish that we go back to our normal lives soon.” Same, Anika.

The prize for this contest is $25,000, but if this discovery actually does prove to do what Anika proposes it might, I hope that she doesn’t get left behind as it’s studied and adopted by the establishment. If it turns out we get a cure for COVID thanks to the work of this amazing you woman, she deserves way more than $25,000. At the very least, I hope she gets extra credit for the rest of her life, which is certain to be extraordinary.

(via: CNN, image: 3M/Screen Shot)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.