PHILADELPHIA (StudyFinds.org) — The next time someone offers you a piece of gum, it might have nothing to do with your breath and everything to do with COVID-19. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created a chewing gum laced with a plant protein that is able to “capture” and neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. They report that the gums can lower the viral load in saliva and possibly decrease the transmission rate.
“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 study leader Henry Daniell of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine in a university edition. “This chewing gum offers the possibility to neutralize the virus in the saliva, allowing us to reduce a source of disease transmission in a simple way.”
Vaccination efforts have helped tremendously in the fight against COVID-19, but even fully vaccinated individuals can still become infected. Moreover, recent research even suggests that the viral loads found in the saliva of vaccinated people are quite similar to those of unvaccinated people.
Reusing medicinal gums for the pandemic
Long before COVID-19 showed up in 2020, Daniell was already analyzing ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) protein for hypertension research purposes. ACE2 is what COVID looks for on the surface of cells and attaches itself using the virus’s spike protein.
Using a patented plant-based production system, Daniell and his team grew the ACE2 protein in a lab setting. To do this, they “bombed” plant material with protein DNA, causing plant chloroplasts to pick up the DNA and start growing the protein.
This plant material, which the team then freeze-dried and grinded, is a viable means of protein delivery, according to the study. The new protein production system is also attractive because it avoids many of the time-consuming and expensive aspects of traditional protein synthesis processes.
All that prior ACE2 protein research put Daniell in a unique research position when COVID-19 arrived. Importantly, previous research into the coronavirus has shown that ACE2 injections have the ability to reduce the viral load in people with severe COVID-19 infections.
In addition, Daniell also worked on a separate project related to the creation of a new chewing gum infused with vegetable proteins, which can fight plaque. Daniell wondered if a chewing gum infused with plant-based ACE2 proteins might work to hinder SARS-CoV-2 viral activity in the mouth.
Preventing COVID from cutting the cells
He brought his idea to Ronald Collman of Penn Medicine, a virologist and pulmonary and critical care physician. dr. Collman has collected several samples (blood, nasal swabs, and saliva) from COVID-19 patients for research purposes.
“Henry contacted me and asked if we had samples to test his approach, what kind of samples would be appropriate for testing and if we could internally validate the level of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the saliva samples” says Dr. colman. . “That led to a cross-school collaboration that built on our microbiome studies.”
As a test, the team grew ACE2 in some plants and then combined it with another compound that allowed ACE2 to cross gastric barriers and bind to it. Researchers turned that plant material into cinnamon-flavored chewing gum tablets. After giving some of this gum to COVID-19 patients, the team collected nasopharyngeal swabs that confirmed the new gum could neutralize the coronavirus.
Further tests conducted on less pathogenic viruses that scientists modified to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein showed that this new type of chewing gum is able to “largely prevent” viruses or viral particles from entering cells. . This blockade occurs in two ways: either by completely protecting the ACE2 receptor on the cells, or by binding directly to the spike protein.
Creating a ‘cheap’ way to end the pandemic
In a third round of testing, researchers exposed saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to the ACE2 gum. Sure enough, the viral RNA levels in the samples dropped to nearly undetectable levels.
“Henry’s approach to making the proteins in plants and using them orally is inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it’s really smart,” adds Dr. Colman.
“We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of transmission,” Daniell concludes. “This gum could be used as an extra tool in that fight.”
In the future, study authors are already working on getting approval for a clinical trial. While these findings are preliminary and more research is needed, the research team says that if the chewing gum is safe and effective, it could be an invaluable COVID-19 asset in the race to end this pandemic.
The study is published in the journal Molecular therapy.