14-Year-Old Girl Wins $25K Prize in Science Competition After Finding Potential Cure for COVID-19

"It reflects our collective hopes to end this pandemic as I, like everyone else, wish that we go back to our normal lives soon," Anika Chebrolu said of her project

A young scientist is leading the way towards a potential cure for COVID-19 — and she's only 14 years old!

Anika Chebrolu recently won 3M's Young Scientist Challenge after discovering a drug that could provide a treatment for the coronavirus, according to the competition's website.

Using an in-silico methodology — an approach made through the use of a computer, according to Drug Discovery and Evaluation: Safety and Pharmacokinetic Assays — Chebrolu was able to find a molecule that can "selectively bind to the Spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus," 3M said.

With her discovery, Chebrolu not only found a potential cure for COVID-19 but also won $25,000 in prize money.

"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," Chebrolu told CNN.

The eighth-grader, of Frisco, Texas, explained to the outlet that she initially entered the competition with a project focused on finding a cure for the influenza virus using the same in-silico method.

Her fascination with finding virus cures developed after she was infected with the flu in 2019, 3M said.

"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," Chebrolu explained in her website profile.

Anika Chebrolu
Anika Chebrolu. Anika Chebrolu/Youtube

Besides a personal experience with the illness, the teen told CNN she was interested in the topic after researching the 1918 flu pandemic and learning how many people still die from the flu each year, despite the availability of vaccines and treatment drugs.

It wasn't until COVID-19, however, that Chebrolu, along with her mentor, Dr. Mahfuza Ali, decided to shift her efforts.

"After spending so much time researching about pandemics, viruses and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this," Chebrolu recalled to CNN.

"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," she continued.

It was innovation and determination that made Chebrolu stand out to 3M's judges, including Dr. Cindy Moss.

"Anika has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for COVID-19," Moss explained to CNN. "Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases."

"She also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is a masterful communicator," Moss added. "Her willingness to use her time and talent to help make the world a better place gives us all hope."

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With the science competition win under her belt, Chebrolu now has her sights set on working with scientists and researchers to determine an actual cure and "control the morbidity and mortality" of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.

"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 explained to the outlet. "How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts."

Fifteen years down the line, Chebrolu hopes to become a medical researcher and professor, according to 3M.

As for how she plans on getting there? "Never stop asking questions," she told the science competition.

As of Tuesday, there have been over 8.2 million cases and at least 220,000 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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