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New Chewing Gum Drastically Cuts Covid Transmission

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

It's an innovative and very promising new weapon for curbing the spread of Covid, and potentially, other diseases.

A collaborative endeavour between researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wistar Institute, and Fraunhofer USA has discovered that a novel chewing gum containing a plant-grown protein can trap the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reducing viral load in saliva and lowering Covid transmission.

Henry Daniell, the leader of the study from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine, said: “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. This gum offers an opportunity to neutralise the virus in the saliva, giving us a simple way to possibly cut down on a source of Covid transmission.”

The good news, as we all know, is that Covid-19 vaccinations have drastically helped to reduce hospitalisations and deaths from the disease; however, they haven’t eradicated Covid transmission. So, it's yet more good news in our battle that there's now potentially another new weapon in our armoury.

Prior to the pandemic, Henry Daniell had already been researching the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein as a possible way of treating hypertension. His team grew this protein and many others that may have therapeutic potential using a patented plant-based production system. Happily, this work turned out to be extremely beneficial in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the receptor for ACE2 on human cells is known to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, with injections of ACE2 found to reduce viral load in people with severe infections.

Elsewhere, a different research project involved developing a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins to disrupt dental plaque, which led the team to investigate whether a gum laced with plant-grown ACE2 proteins can neutralise SARS-CoV-2 in the oral cavity.

The disparate teams of researchers then collaborated and successfully demonstrated that the gum largely prevented Covid transmission into the cells, either by blocking the ACE2 receptor or binding directly to the spike protein. Finally, the team exposed Covid-19 saliva samples to the gum, identifying that the levels of viral RNA dropped to near undetectable levels. The team are now seeking to conduct clinical trials to determine if the chewing gum is safe and effective when tested in people infected with SARS-CoV-2.

One of the research collaborators, Ronald Collman at Penn Medicine, said: “Henry’s approach of making the proteins in plants and using them orally is inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it really is clever.”

Although the research is still in the early stages, if clinical trials demonstrate that the gum is safe and effective, it could be administered to patients whose infection status is unknown or for dental check-ups when masks must be removed, reducing the chances of Covid transmission.

Daniell commented: “We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of Covid transmission. This gum could be used as an additional tool in that fight.”

The findings of their study are published in the journal Molecular Therapy and it definitely looks like it should become an effective new weapon for battling the pandemic.


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