Chewing gum developed to cut Covid transmission


New experimental chewing gum has been developed that can reduce the transmission of coronavirus. In a study, published in the journal Molecular Therapy, chewing gum containing a protein that traps coronavirus particles could limit the amount of virus in saliva and help curb the Covid transmission.

The researchers noted that people who are fully vaccinated can still become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and can carry a viral load similar to those who are unvaccinated.

“SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the salivary glands, and we know that when someone who is infected sneezes, coughs or speaks some of that virus can be expelled and reach others,” said Henry Daniell at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

Evidence shows that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 have high levels of virus in their saliva. So, US researchers wanted to investigate whether a specially designed chewing gum could reduce the amount of virus in their mouth.

“This gum offers an opportunity to neutralize the virus in the saliva, giving us a simple way to possibly cut down on a source of disease transmission,” said Daniell, who led the study published in the journal ‘Molecular Therapy’.

The SARS-CoV-2 gains entry into human cells by latching onto ACE2 proteins which are found on the surfaces of certain cells in our body. Therefore, the researchers have created a chewing gum that contains a copy of ACE2 protein.

In test-tube experiments, the researchers took saliva samples from patients with COVID-19 and mixed these samples with a powdered form of the gum. They found that virus particles attached themselves to the ACE2 “receptors”, present in the chewing gum.

According to the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, 5mg of chewing gum could significantly reduce viral entry into cells while 50mg of the gum reduced viral entry by 95%.

To test the chewing gum, the team grew ACE2 in plants, paired with another compound that enables the protein to cross mucosal barriers and facilitates binding. The researchers incorporated the resulting plant material into cinnamon-flavored gum tablets.

Incubating samples obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs from COVID-positive patients with the gum showed that the ACE2 present could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses. They then modified viruses, less-pathogenic than SARS-CoV-2, to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

The scientists observed that the gum largely prevented the viruses or viral particles from entering cells, either by blocking the ACE2 receptor on the cells or by binding directly to the spike protein.

Chewing gum to promote oral health is not a new idea. Studies have shown that chewing gums containing certain substances such as calcium and bicarbonate can help in reducing dental ailments. However, specifically targeting a virus in this way is a novel approach.

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