Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a chewing gum that can bind to SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva, potentially helping to reduce viral transmission. The gum contains the protein ACE2 that can attach to the viral spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. By binding directly to the viral particles, it can prevent them from being transmitted through coughs or sneezes. The gum may be another weapon in our arsenal against SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
The COVID-19 pandemic is in its second act, with many people in developed countries having received a vaccine, but the emergence of new strains and the lack of vaccine coverage in many parts of the world means that the war against the virus is far from over. This struggle will continue for the foreseeable future, but innovation is providing us with new tools to combat this formidable foe.
Treating a patient with COVID-19 is much more difficult than simply preventing infection in the first place. While vaccines can prevent severe disease, they don’t completely prevent infection and transmission. Simple measures, such as face masks, can play an important role is reducing transmission across large populations. This latest technology falls into this bracket, but employs a little more sophistication than a face mask.
“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 Henry Daniell, a researcher involved in the study, via a press release. “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.”
The mechanism of action of the gum is based on the binding activity of the viral spike protein, which binds to ACE2 receptors on human cells. However, it is possible to use ACE2 as a decoy for viral particles. The researchers exploited this phenomenon by incorporating ACE2 into a chewable gum, creating a cinnamon-flavored viral decoy.
So far, the UPenn team tested the gum in the lab, using COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab samples from real patients, and showed that the formulation significantly neutralized the viral particles.
“We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of transmission,” said Daniell. “This gum could be used as an additional tool in that fight.”