Don’t like wearing masks? Try this bio-engineered chewing gum instead

Scientists are trialling a sticky solution to the transmission of COVID-19 variants.

Scientists are trialling a sticky solution to the transmission of COVID-19 variants. Photo: Getty

Dentists to the rescue? Researchers from a US dental school are preparing the first human trial of an experimental chewing gum that ‘traps’ SARS-CoV-2 particles in saliva.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

The gum uses an ACE2 protein taken from engineered hydroponic lettuce. ACE2 proteins are on the surface of many cells, and they serve as the entry point for the coronavirus to infect us.

In the experimental gum, the ACE2 proteins essentially lures the virus and traps it.

Test tube data very promising

According to an explainer from the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in test-tube experiments using saliva from individuals infected with the Delta or Omicron variants, the virus particles attached themselves to the ACE2 ‘receptors’ in the chewing gum and the viral load fell to undetectable levels.

Before and after chewing: The viral load drops to almost nothing. Photo: Penn Dental School

“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, vice-chair and W. D. Miller Professor in the Department of Basic and Translational Sciences in the dental school.

“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 human trials

The clinical trial is a simple experiment: COVID-19 patients will each chew four ACE2 gum tablets each day for four days, and their saliva will be analysed for viral load.

If the saliva is all but cleared of the virus, as it was in the test-tube experiments, the gum could be adopted as a cheap and easy tool for suppressing the transmission of problematic variants.

According to a study paper, a second experimental chewing gum made with bean powder instead of lettuce cells “not only traps SARS-CoV-2 particles in lab experiments but also influenza strains, and other coronaviruses that cause common colds”.

The researchers say there is potential for other curbing oral viruses such as human papillomavirus and herpesvirus (the dreaded cold sores).

Topics: COVID-19
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