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, finds a new study.
The researchers 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, indicates the study published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
"SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the salivary glands, and we know that when someone d sneezes, coughs, or speaks some of that virus can be expelled and reach others," said researcher Henry Daniell from the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
"This gum offers an opportunity to neutralise the virus in the saliva, giving us a simple way to possibly cut down on a source of disease transmission," Daniell added.
To test the chewing gum, the team grew angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (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-flavoured gum tablets.
Incubating samples obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs from Covid-positive patients with the gum, they showed that the ACE2 present could neutralise 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 team 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.
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.