Researchers Develop Chewing Gum To Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Transmission

A recent study conducted by the team of researchers has developed a chewing gum that is laced with a plant-grown protein serving as a "trap" for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and could decrease the transmission.

A recent study conducted by the team of researchers has developed a chewing gum that is laced with a plant-grown protein serving as a “trap” for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and could decrease the transmission. The results of the study has been published in the ‘Molecular Therapy Journal’.

The work, led by Henry Daniell at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine and performed in collaboration with scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine, as well as at The Wistar Institute and Fraunhofer USA, could lead on to a low-cost tool within the arsenal against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“SARS-CoV-2 replicates within the salivary glands, and that we know that when someone who is infected sneezes, coughs or speaks a number of that virus are often expelled and reach others,” said Daniell. “This gum offers a chance to neutralize the virus within the saliva, giving us an easy thanks to possibly hamper on a source of disease transmission,” he added.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 have helped change the course of the pandemic but haven’t stamped out transmission. Even people that are fully vaccinated can still become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and, consistent with recent research, can carry a viral load almost like those that are unvaccinated. Prior to the pandemic, Daniell had been studying the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein within the context of treating hypertension.

His lab had grown this protein, as well as many others that may have therapeutic potential, using a patented plant-based production system. By bombarding plant material with the DNA of target proteins, they coaxed plant chloroplasts to take up the DNA and begin growing the proteins.

The material , freeze-dried and ground-up, might be used as a way of delivering the protein. This system has the potential to avoid the standard obstacles to protein drug synthesis: namely, an upscale production and purification process.

Daniell’s past work on ACE2 proved fortuitous within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The receptor for ACE2 on human cells also happened to bind the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Other research groups had shown that injections of ACE2 could reduce viral load in people with severe infections.

Meanwhile, another line of labor by Daniell and Penn dentistry colleague Hyun (Michel) Koo had involved research to develop a chewing gum infused with plant-grown proteins to disrupt bacterial plaque . Pairing his insights about ACE2 with this technology, Daniell wondered if such a gum, infused with plant-grown ACE2 proteins, could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 within the mouth .

Treatment Here Insulux To find out, he reached out to Ronald Collman at Penn Medicine, a virologist and pulmonary and critical care doctor whose team, since the early stages of the pandemic, had been collecting blood, nasal swabs, saliva, and other biospecimens from COVID patients for research project . “Henry contacted me and asked if we had samples to check his approach, what quite samples would be appropriate to check, and whether we could internally validate the level of SARS-CoV-2 virus within the saliva samples,” Collman said. “That led to a cross-school collaboration building on our microbiome studies,” he added.

To test the chewing gum, the team grew ACE2 in plants, paired with another compound that enabled the protein to cross mucosal barriers and facilitated 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 showed that the ACE2 present could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

Those initial investigations were followed by others at The Wistar Institute and Penn Vet, during which viruses, less-pathogenic than SARS-CoV-2, were modified to precise the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The scientists 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.

Finally, the team exposed saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to the ACE2 gum and located that levels of viral RNA fell so dramatically to be almost undetectable. The research team is currently working toward obtaining permission to conduct a clinical test to guage whether the approach is safe and effective when tested in people infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“Henry’s approach of making the proteins in plants and using them orally is inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it really is clever,” Collman said. Though the research is still in the early stages of development, if the clinical trials prove that the gum is safe and effective, it could be given to patients whose infection status is unknown or even for dental check-ups when masks must be removed, to reduce the likelihood of passing the virus to caregivers.

“We are already using masks and other physical barriers to reduce the chance of transmission,” said Daniell.

“This gum could be used as an additional tool in that fight,” he concluded

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