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Indian-American teen wins $250K science prize

New York, March 15 (IANS) An Indian-origin teen has won a prestigious high schoolers’ science prize of $250,000 for developing a computer model to predict the structure of RNA molecules that can aid in quickly diagnosing diseases.

Neel Moudgal, 17, was announced the winner of the Regeneron Science Talent competition on Tuesday.

Ambika Grover, 17, was ranked sixth for an $80,000 award and Siddhu Pachipala, 18, placed ninth for a $50,000 prize.

About 2,000 high school students competed in the Science Talent Search with 40 selected for the final round.

According to the Society for Science that ran the competition sponsored by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Moudgal’s computational biology and bioinformatics project “can rapidly and reliably predict the structure of various RNA molecules to facilitate the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutic drugs for diseases such as cancer, autoimmune diseases and viral infections”.

Grover developed an injectable microbubble to break up blood clots and treat stroke victims by restoring the blood flow to the brain.

Pachipala used machine learning to assess a patient’s suicide risk.

By analysing a patient’s journal entries the semantics in an individual’s writing could be correlated with their psychological health and risk of suicide.

Pachipala, who was chosen by the finalists as most exemplifying them, also was given the Seaborg Award.

The winners of the Science Talent Search programme originally sponsored by Westinghouse and now associated with the current sponsor Regeneron have gone on to win 11 Nobel Prizes and two Fields Medals for mathematics.

George Yancopoulos, the co-founder and president of the New York State-headquartered Regeneron, was himself the Science Talent Search winner in 1976.

That experience convinced him to work on curing diseases and added: “I can only hope this year’s students will be similarly inspired to become the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators that will develop and advance solutions for the world’s greatest challenges”.

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