TODAY   |  March 22, 2014

Teen scientist researches new flu drugs

17-year-old California teen Eric Chen was a curious kid from a young age, and he turned that curiosity into a passion for fighting flu outbreaks. Chen made an impressive discovery after combining research and lab work. NBC’s Joe Fryer reports.

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>>> this next story is incredible. the flight against the flu is getting help from an unlikely person. a teenager making waves in the scientific world and giving hope to anyone that's battled the flu.

>> walking to his southern california high school , 17-year-old eric chin is a science celebrity.

>> you can only imagine what he's going to do. we know it's going to be great.

>> it started early in life. eric was obsessed with legos and any other toy he could take apart and put back together.

>> he was a very curious boy from a very young age. always asking why.

>> a couple years ago, that curiosity matured into a passion for fight flu outbreaks.

>>> i thought we have this urgent need for new medicine.

>> eric needed a lab to do research. at his age it wasn't easy but he eventually found a place here at the university of california san diego .

>> with help from trusting professors eric developed an innovative approach that marries computer based research with good old fashioned lab work. before long he made an impressive discovery.

>> this is the protein. i found the small molecule .

>> the molecule when bound with the protein can stop the virus.

>> we have a good start in what could be potential new treatments for influenza.

>> eric showed off research at google's i science fair where he beat out thousands for the grand prize earning a scholarship and grand price.

>> it was pursuing the science. he was so passionate about what he did.

>> eric hopes his search can expand beyond the flu.

>> diseases killing lots of people. if i can speed up measures of live saving measures, that's a hope of mine. . eric won two more contests earning $200,000 in scholarship money. a prodigy turned science celebrity now fighting the flu for everyone. joe friar, nbc news, san diego .