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December 08, 2021

Chewing gum developed by Penn researchers may help cut COVID-19 transmission

It is designed to kill viral particles in the saliva, which the coronavirus uses to spread

Prevention COVID-19
COVID-19 transmission gum Jeff Prieb/Free Images

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that a chewing gum containing a plant-grown protein is able to neutralize the coronavirus in saliva, which may help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania may have discovered another possible method for reducing the spread of COVID-19: chewing gum.

The experimental gum contains a plant-grown protein capable of neutralizing the coronavirus. It cut the virus's presence by more than 95% in saliva and nasal swab samples collected from COVID-positive patients. The research was published in the journal Molecular Therapy.

Gum may be an effective way at reducing COVID-19 transmission because the virus relies on saliva to spread.

The coronavirus "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," lead researcher Henry Daniell told Penn Today. "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 Penn Dental researchers are hopeful that the gum could prove to be an effective, low-cost way to reduce COVID-19 transmission. They are submitting their data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in hopes of conducting a clinical trail on the gum's effectiveness.

The gum, which uses a protein that has been used to treat heart disease and hypertension, is cinnamon flavored.

"No different than any other gum," Daniell told CBS Philly

To develop the gum, the researchers grew the ACE2 protein in plants and paired it with an additional compound that allows the protein to bind to the coronavirus's spike protein. They injected the plant material into gum tablets. 

Additional research showed the gum largely prevented viral particles from entering cells, either by blocking the ACE2 receptor on the cells or by binding directly to the spike protein.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniell had been researching the potential of using the ACE2 protein to treat patients with high blood pressure. He also had worked to create a chewing gum that used plant-grown proteins to combat plaque.

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