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Indian-American teen wins $50,000 Young Scientist award

A 17-year-old Indian-origin student in Missouri has won the prestigious Regeneron Young Scientist Awards of $50,000 for his research relating to the mpox virus.

Saathvik Kannan of David H. Hickman High School in Columbia was awarded for using biocomputational methods to understand the causes of heightened infectivity in the disease mpox after it re-emerged in 2022.

Saathvik’s approach, named Bioplex, uses a combination of machine learning and three-dimensional comparative protein modeling to decode structures like those that enable the mpox virus to replicate.

This allowed him to identify the mutations in the virus that likely made it more infectious as well as other mutations that could make it resistant to antibiotics.

He credited his mentor, Kamlendra Singh, an assistant professor of veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri.

“I was overjoyed and incredibly excited!” Saathvik wrote in an email to the Columbia Daily Tribute about the prize.

“I felt that it reflected our work with Dr. Singh’s mentorship and guidance over the last few years culminating in my project from this year.”

Saathvik believes scientists will also be able to apply Bioplex to future outbreaks of other viruses.

More than 1,600 young scientists and engineers representing 49 states and 64 countries across the world competed at the 2023 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

Saathvik also took first place in the fair’s computational biology and bioinformatics division, receiving another $5,000.

According to Regeneron, a leading biotechnology company, the winners were selected for their commitment to innovation in tackling challenging scientific questions, using authentic research practices and creating solutions to the problems of tomorrow.

Rishab Jain, another Indian-American student from Portland, won the same award last year for developing an AI-based model to enable rapid and cost-effective production of drugs, such as recombinant Covid-19 vaccines, using synthetic DNA engineering.

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