What to Know
- Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are developing chewing gum that could potentially reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
- Researchers say the gum is laced with a plant-grown protein and could neutralize the virus in saliva by “trapping” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
- The research team is currently working to obtain permission to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate whether the gum is safe and effective to test on COVID-19 patients.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are developing chewing gum that could potentially reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Therapy, is being led by Henry Daniell at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine along with scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Wistar Institute and Fraunhofer USA.
Researchers say the gum is laced with a plant-grown protein and could neutralize the virus in saliva by “trapping” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
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“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,” Daniell told Penn Today. “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.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Daniell studied the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein in order to treat hypertension. His lab grew the protein by using a plant-based production system in order to potentially avoid the normally expensive production and purification process of protein drug synthesis.
Researchers say the injection of ACE2 can reduce viral load in people with severe infections.
At the same time he was developing the protein, Daniell and his colleague at Penn Dental Medicine, Hyun Koo, were also developing a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins to reduce dental plaque. Daniell then considered infusing the gum with the plant-grown ACE2 proteins in order to reduce SARS-CoV-2 in the mouth.
Daniell then contacted Ronald Collman, a virologist at Penn Medicine, to find out more.
“Henry contacted me and asked if we had samples to test his approach, what kind of samples would be appropriate to test, and whether we could internally validate the level of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the saliva samples,” Collman told Penn Today. “That led to a cross-school collaboration building on our microbiome studies.”
After growing ACE2 in plants and testing the chewing gum on samples from COVID-positive patients, the researchers determined it could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
Further research from the Wistar Institute and the School of Veterinary Medicine determined that the gum largely prevented viruses or viral particles from entering cells. The team also exposed saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to the gum and found that the levels of viral RNA fell to the point that they were almost undetectable.
The research team is currently working to obtain permission to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate whether the gum is safe and effective to test on COVID-19 patients.
While the research is still in the early stages of development, the team says the gum could potentially be an inexpensive way of treating the virus that could also reduce the risk of transmission to caregivers during dental checkups when masks are removed.
“We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of transmission,” Daniell told Penn Today. “This gum could be used as an additional tool in that fight.”