Could This Chewing Gum Reduce the Spread of Covid-19?

An image of a stick of gum shown in the stages of being used. Starting with unwrapping the stick of gum to ending with sticking the used piece in its foil wrapper. The sequence is shown against a pink background.
The researchers note that the gum looks and feels like the type of gum found in convivence stores and can be stored at normal temperatures for years without damaging the ACE2 protein molecules that trap the SARS-coV-2 particles.

  Malte Mueller/Getty Images

Previous evidence has shown that people infected with Covid-19 have high levels of the virus in their saliva. Now, researchers have developed an experimental chewing gum that traps SARS-CoV-2 viral particles, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The gum may help lower viral transmission when infected individuals breathe, talk, or cough, reports Nancy Lapid for Reuters. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published details of the study this month in the research journal Molecular Therapy.

The experimental gum traps viral particles through copies of a receptor called the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors riddled along its surface. Like a key inserted into a locked door, SARS-Cov-2 enters human cells by latching onto ACE2 receptors. ACE2 proteins are found lining the surfaces of some cells and epithelial tissues in the body, such as the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal tract.

Scientists designed the gum with plant-derived ACE2 proteins with the novel idea that viral particles will latch onto the gum, minimizing the ability for the virus to spread from one’s mouth to others, reports Grace C. Roberts for the Conversation.

To test the gum’s effectiveness in trapping the virus, researchers collected saliva samples from Covid-19 patients and mixed them with a powdered form of the gum. When looking at the samples, the team found that the gum laced with ACE2 proteins had soaked up viral particles from the infected saliva, whereas normal chewing gum did not have the same effect. In total, the viral load in infected samples was lowered by 95 percent when mixed with 50 milligrams of the powdered gum, Reuters reports.

The researchers note that the gum looks and feels like the type of gum found in convivence stores and can be stored at normal temperatures for years without damaging the ACE2 protein molecules.

However, the gum is still in early-stage research and has not been tested in humans or in real-world scenarios. The results are from experiments conducted in lab-controlled conditions using a machine that simulated chewing, Roberts notes in the Conversation. While the chewing gum laced with the proteins traps more viral particles, the experiment does not answer questions like how body temperature or oral bacteria impact the effectiveness of the gum or how long will the gum’s ability to trap viral particles lasts, per the Conversation.

Although the gum reduced the virus transmission ability in infected saliva, it is still unknown how the gum will be helpful in those who are not infected since the virus can still be transmitted through droplets from the nose and eyes.

Overall, the gum could theoretically be effective against other variants of Covid-19 since all forms of SARS-CoV-2 enter the body by latching onto ACE2 proteins regardless of mutations. However, real-world applications still need to be completed to confirm this. If found to be an effective tool, the gum could be another prevention tactic to add to the current toolkit of public health measures against the virus like masks, social distancing, and vaccination. The chewing gum could also be useful in countries where vaccines are sparsely available or unaffordable, per Reuters.

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