In a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found a chewing gum laced with a plant-grown protein serves as a “trap” for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reducing viral load in saliva and potentially tamping down transmission.
This gum offers an opportunity to neutralize the virus in the saliva, giving people a simple way to possibly cut down on a source of disease transmission.
Vaccinations for COVID-19 have helped change the course of the pandemic but haven’t stamped out transmission.
Even 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.
Previously, the team helped develop a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins to disrupt dental plaque.
Pairing his insights about ACE2 (the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) with this technology, the team wondered if such a gum, infused with plant-grown ACE2 proteins, could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in the oral cavity.
The receptor for ACE2 on human cells also happens to bind the SARS-CoV-2 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-flavored gum tablets.
Incubating samples obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs from COVID-positive patients with the gum, they showed that the ACE2 present could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
Those initial investigations were followed by others, in which viruses, less-pathogenic than SARS-CoV-2, were modified 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.
Finally, the team exposed saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to the ACE2 gum and found that levels of viral RNA fell so dramatically to be almost undetectable.
The research team is currently working toward obtaining permission to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate whether the approach is safe and effective when tested in people infected with SARS-CoV-2.
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The study is published in the journal Molecular Therapy. One author of the study is Henry Daniell.
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