Saline teen honored for project that could help scientists efficiently study RNA to cure diseases

Posted at 5:58 PM, Sep 06, 2022

SALINE, Mich. (WXYZ) — A teen from Saline, Michigan is being honored for his work creating a platform that could help scientists more easily develop treatments for cancer, viruses, genetic disorders and other diseases.

Neel Moudgal learned recently he was awarded the $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program for his project, Using Unassigned NMR Chemical Shifts to Model RNA Secondary Structure.

“It means so much for them to recognize my work as having some benefit to society,” said Neel Moudgal, Davidson Fellows Scholarship Winner.

Neel Moudgal says he started the project in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.

We started hearing a lot about messenger RNA as Moderna and Pfizer worked to develop mRNA vaccines. We know RNA teaches the body how to make proteins that can support your immune system or even treat diseases. Scientists believe understanding RNA structure could unlock cures for many diseases.

For his project, Moudgal says he worked with a mentor, Professor Aaron Frank at the University of Michigan. He developed a new platform to predict the structure of various RNA molecules rapidly with easily available data.

“You can get some preliminary prediction with pretty high accuracy of what that molecule looks like,” said Mougdal.

Neel says his work is personal. His grandfather has Alzheimer’s, a disease he hopes knowledge helps cure.

“My grandfather is really someone who has been there in my life. He has been there with me longer than I can remember. And that is something that is personal to me as well,” he said.

The 16-year-old’s goal is to pursue studies that enable him to be a medical researcher.