Amid the rise in a number of COVID-19 cases once again and the discovery of new mutations of the virus, scientists are developing a chewing gum laced with a plant-grown protein that can “trap” the SARS-CoV-2 and hence reduce the spread of the deadly virus.
The chewing gum can trap coronavirus particles, limit the amount of virus in saliva and help curb the transmission of virus when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, according to the study published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
“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 neutralise 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.
It is said that prior to the pandemic, Daniell was studying the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein in the context of treating hypertension. Daniell’s lab had grown this protein, as well as many others that may have therapeutic potential, using a patented plant-based production system.
This system has the potential to avoid the usual obstacles to protein drug synthesis: an expensive production and purification process, the researchers said.
To test the chewing gum, the team grew ACE2 in plants, paired with another compound that enables the protein to cross mucosal barriers and facilitates binding. The researchers incorporated the resulting plant material into cinnamon-flavoured gum tablets.
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 found that levels of viral RNA fell so dramatically to be almost undetectable.
The research team is currently working towards 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.
(With inputs from agencies)