A chewing gum laced with a plant-grown protein serves as a “trap” for the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) virus, reducing viral load in saliva and potentially tamping down transmission, according to a new study.
The work, led by Henry Daniell at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine could lead to a low-cost tool in the arsenal against the Covid-19 pandemic. The study was published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
Daniell says: “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 disease transmission”.
Prior to the pandemic, Daniell had been studying the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein in the context of treating hypertension. Daniell’s past work on ACE2 proved fortuitous in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The receptor for ACE2 on human cells also happens to bind the Covid-19 spike protein. Other research groups have shown that injections of ACE2 can reduce viral load in people with severe infections.
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, and incorporated the resulting plant material into cinnamon-flavoured gum tablets. Incubating samples obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs from Covid-positive patients with the gum, they showed that the ACE2 present could neutralise Covid-19 viruses.