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PHILADELPHIA, U.S.: A study led by researchers from University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine has found that a chewing gum laced with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) proteins debulks SARS-CoV-2 in the oral cavity. The gum, if proved safe and effective, could join masks and other physical barriers as an affordable tool that reduces the chance of transmission.
The study sought to advance the novel concept of debulking virus in the oral cavity using a chewing gum infused with clinical-grade ACE2 plant biomass. The research team grew the biomass in plants and paired it with another compound that enabled the protein to bind more effectively, and the biomass was incorporated into cinnamon-flavored gum tablets.
In a series of tests, the researchers found that the ACE2 protein neutralized SARS-CoV-2, that the gum largely prevented viral particles from entering cells and that viral RNA levels in SARS-CoV-2-infected saliva samples fell so substantially when exposed to the gum that they were close to being undetectable.
The study was led by Dr. Henry Daniell, W.D. Miller Professor in the Department of Basic and Translational Sciences in the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Daniell commented in the university publication Penn Today: “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.” He said that the chewing 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.”
We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of transmission,” Dr. Daniell commented, adding: “This gum could be used as an additional tool in that fight.”
Co-author, Dr. Ronald Collman, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, commented that Dr. Daniell’s approach to making the plant protein for oral use was “inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it really is clever.”
The researchers are now seeking permission to evaluate the chewing gum in people infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to Penn Today.
Coincidentally, Dr. Daniell had already been conducting research projects that involved the ACE2 receptor protein and chewing gum before the pandemic. He had been studying the ACE2 protein in the context of treatment for hypertension—his laboratory having grown the protein—and working to develop a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins that would disrupt dental plaque.
The study, titled “Debulking SARS-CoV-2 in saliva using angiotensin converting enzyme 2 in chewing gum to decrease oral virus transmission and infection,” was published online on Nov. 10, 2021, in Molecular Therapy, ahead of inclusion in an issue.