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COVID-19 ISO Insights

New Experimental Chewing Gum Could Limit the Spread of Covid-19

December 13, 2021

By Travis Decaminada

Key Takeaway: According to reports, researchers have successfully developed a chewing gum that’s capable of trapping the Covid-19 virus within a person’s mouth. This is likely important because Covid-19 is often spread via saliva. In due course, this gum may become yet another useful means to limit the spread of Covid-19, especially in clinical settings.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently developed a new chewing gum that is capable of trapping SARS-CoV-2 viral particles, the virus that causes Covid-19, reports Smithsonian Magazine. (Full study here). Reportedly, Covid-19 is often spread via saliva when an infected person breathes, speaks, or coughs near other people. Should this gum prove effective in the field, it may help reduce the spread of Covid-19 by helping ensure that viral particles stay within a person's mouth.

How it Works

The mechanism that allows the gum to snare viral particles appears relatively straightforward. According to the article, when SARS-CoV-2 enters a person’s body, the virus binds to cells via receptors called angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2). ACE2 receptors are reportedly commonly found on the cells that make up epithelial tissues within the lungs, heart, blood vessels, and within other organs.

Researchers working on the gum were able to locate ACE2 receptors within certain plant cells as well, which they then collected and, in short, mixed with gum to create a viral-trapping chewy treat. In order to test the gum, the article explains that a powdered version of the substance was mixed with saliva samples from those infected with Covid-19. Reportedly, 50 milligrams of the gum was able to lower the viral load within a sample of saliva by as much as 95%, though even as little as 5mg of the gum was also able to capture a significant amount of the virus. Further, the article explains that the gum could also be effective at trapping all known Covid-19 variant strains since such strains rely on ACE2 receptors to enter a cell.

Practicality?

A related article from Reuters mentions that the gum, feels, and tastes just like regular chewing gum, can be stored at room temperatures, and can remain shelf stable for several years without damaging the ACE2 receptors. The article also notes that the gum could be particularly useful in countries where access to vaccines is still limited.

However, the gum’s development is still in its infancy, and there are many important questions that need to be answered before it can be made available to the public. An article from The Conversation discusses some of these challenges, noting in particular that the gum’s efficacy has only ever been measured in a lab using a “chewing simulator machine”, and that experiments conducted in the real world may have different results. How the gum holds up within a person’s mouth, and at body temperature, or how it will interact with oral bacteria remains unknown. Further, how long the gum can be chewed for without losing its ability to trap viral particles is also unknown. Finally, the article highlights that the gum may find more success in clinical settings, such as a dentist’s office, than it would as a competitor to mainstream chewing gums. Nonetheless, the gum may ultimately end up as yet another useful tool to combat the pandemic akin to masks, social distancing, and other preventative measures. 

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