In the wake of the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, researchers have now come up with a chewing gum that they claim to reduce the oral transmission of this SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is a plant-based chewing gum for ‘trapping’ the virus in saliva.
The researchers observed that the gum prevented the coronavirus from entering human cells by blocking the ACE2 receptor (the entry point where coronavirus enters into a human cell) or by binding directly to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
According to the researchers’ study that is published in the journal Molecular Therapy, the chewing gum offers an effective way to reduce oral coronavirus transmission. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, the virus can easily expel out and reach others. But when they chew this gum, it traps the virus in saliva with the ACE2 protein. The ACE2 protein (found in humans) is where the COVID-19 virus latches and tries to make its way into the cell.
ACE2 Protein and Chewing Gum
Before the pandemic hit the world, Henry Daniell from the University of Pennsylvania had been researching and studying ACE2 protein to treat hypertension. In this laboratory, he grew ACE2 using his patented plant-based production system.
This plant-based system bombards the plant material using the ACE2 DNA for inducing its growth in the plant chloroplasts. It is ready for patient use after it’s completely freeze-dried and further grounded up. It can help in circumventing the pricey drug synthesis procedure.
Besides this plant-based system, Dr. Daniell and his coworkers were also investigating a chewing gum that contains plant-grown proteins. They were studying this chewing gum for treating dental plaque.
However, after the pandemic, Daniell decided to blend this knowledge of plant-based chewing gum and the ACE2 protein. This is how he came up with a special gum that can neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 within the oral cavity.
How does plant-based chewing gum reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission?
ACE2 protein is a receptor of SARS-CoV-2, which uses this protein to enter human cells. According to studies, people with respiratory issues from COVID-19 have less ACE2 activity. Even a piece of evidence shows that an injection of soluble ACE2 can help in restoring health in COVID-19 patients.
In collaboration with his colleague Hyun (Michel) Koo and virologist Ronald Collman, Daniell grew ACE2 in plants, paired it with some other compound, and incorporated it into a cinnamon-flavored gum tablet. After that, incubating samples were obtained through nasopharyngeal swabs of COVID-19 positive patients chewing the gum. The studies observed that the ACE2 can neutralize the SARS-CoV-2.
Scope of chewing gum to minimize transmission
However, the studies are now tried in people for determining whether this ACE2 gum will get accepted. It may get accepted based on the longevity of the protection it provides against infection.
Of course, another critical question that comes to everyone’s mind is whether ACE2 gum can avert infection. It needs further testing in people as they breathe through their noses. And, the virus can enter from there as well. Another thing to observe is whether the gum offers extended protection beyond the oral cavity into the nasopharynx and upper back of the throat.