A 14-year-old Indian-American girl has won $25,000 (Rs 18.34 lakh approximately) for her research on a potential drug to treat the coronavirus, CNN reported on Sunday. Anika Chebrolu won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which is considered to be the United States’ premier middle school science competition.

The eighth grader from Frisco in Texas has won the prize for developing a molecule that can bind to a certain protein of the coronavirus and prevent it from functioning. According to the 3M Challenge website, she used in-silico methodology for drug discovery.

“I was drawn towards finding effective cures for influenza disease after a severe bout of the infection last year, Chebrolu said. “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.”

3M is a manufacturing company based in Minnesota. Apart from the cash prize, she was also awarded an exclusive 3M mentorship.

“I am extremely humbled at being selected America’s Top Young Scientist as all of the finalists had amazing projects and were extremely well-rounded individuals. Science is the basis of life and the entire universe and we have a long way to go understand it fully.”

— Anika Chebrolu

3M Corporate Scientist Mahfuza Ali mentored Chebrolu and helped her perfect the scientific method. Each of the 10 finalists was evaluated on a series of challenges and the presentation of their completed work.

“Chebrolu has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for COVID-19,” Dr Cindy Moss, a judge for the competition, told CNN. “Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases. She also 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.”

Chebrolu said her next goal was to work alongside scientists and researchers who are fighting to “control the morbidity and mortality” of the pandemic. “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 added. “How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts.”

Chebrolu aspires to become a medical researcher and professor. She said her grandfather piqued her interest in science. “My grandpa, when I was younger, he always used to push me toward science,” the 14-year-old said. “He was actually a chemistry professor, and he used to always tell me learn the periodic table of the elements and learn all these things about science and over time I just grew to love it.”