This gum offers an opportunity to neutralize the virus in saliva, said a researcher. (Representational)
The researchers noted that even people who have been fully vaccinated can become infected with coronavirus and carry a viral load compared to those who have not been vaccinated.
Scientists are working on a chewing gum that contains a plant-grown protein that acts as a “trap” for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, reducing viral load in saliva and potentially lowering transmission. The researchers noted that even people who have been fully vaccinated can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and carry a viral load compared to those who have not been vaccinated.
“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 at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
“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,” said Daniell, who led the study published in the journal ‘Molecular Therapy’.
Daniell had been studying the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein in the context of hypertension treatment prior to the pandemic.
His lab used a patented plant-based production system to grow this protein, as well as many others with potential therapeutic applications. According to the researchers, this system has the potential to avoid the usual barriers to protein drug synthesis, such as an expensive production and purification process.
According to scientists, the ACE2 receptor on human cells also binds the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which the virus uses to infect the cells.
Previous studies have shown that ACE2 injections can reduce viral load in people with severe infections.
Daniell and colleague Hyun Koo have also been working on developing a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins to disrupt dental plaque.
When Daniell paired his insights of ACE2 with this technology, he wondered if a gum infused with plant-grown ACE2 proteins could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in the oral cavity.
To put the chewing gum to the test, the researchers grew ACE2 in plants along with another compound that allows the protein to cross mucosal barriers and facilitate binding.
The resulting plant material was incorporated into cinnamon-flavored gum tablets by the researchers.
They proved that by incubating samples obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs from COVID-positive patients with the gum, the ACE2 present could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
They then modified viruses that were less pathogenic than SARS-CoV-2 in order for them to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
The gum largely prevented viruses or viral particles from entering cells, either by blocking the ACE2 receptor on the cells or by binding directly to the spike protein, according to the researchers.
Finally, after exposing saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to the ACE2 gum, the researchers discovered that viral RNA levels have dropped so dramatically that they were almost undetectable.
The research team is currently working to obtain permission to conduct a clinical trial to see if the approach is safe and effective when tested on SARS-CoV-2 infected people.
If the clinical trials show that the gum is safe and effective, it could be given to patients whose infection status is unknown to reduce the risk of the virus spreading to caregivers, according to the researchers.