Research to find ways to stop the spread of Covid-19 continues. Recently an article was published in the journal Molecular Therapy, describing another possible method to reduce the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This method is based on the use of an experimental chewing gum.
Scientists know that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 have a high level of the virus in their saliva. American researchers thus wanted to study whether a special chewing gum could reduce the amount of virus in a patient’s mouth, and thus reduce transmission.
Using chewing gum for oral health is not a new idea. According to studies, chewing gum containing certain substances such as calcium or bicarbonate can have a positive impact on the health of the mouth. However, the innovation for the new study comes from the fact that we are targeting a specific virus.
How does the method work?
To enter human cells, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus attaches to ACE2 proteins that are found on the surface of certain cells in the body. Scientists have thus developed a chewing gum containing high levels of ACE2 proteins which are produced by plants. Their idea is that the proteins in chewing gum trap virus particles present in the mouth to minimize infection of cells and transmission to other people.
To test the effectiveness of the special chewing gum, the researchers mixed a powdered version with saliva samples from patients with Covid-19. They found that the samples treated with the chewing gum contained a reduced number of virus particles compared to those treated with a placebo. The results also showed that the chewing gum prevented a pseudotyped virus from infecting cells in the lab. The researchers were able to calculate that 5mg of chewing gum corresponded to a significantly reduced entry of the virus into cells. An amount of 50mg reduced the entry of the virus by 95%.
The limits of the technique
Even if this experience seems very satisfactory, it will still take time and work before we can say that chewing gum is a key element against Covid-19. Indeed, this study is still in its infancy, and the tests were carried out in the laboratory, under controlled conditions, and not under real conditions with human subjects. This is valid even if the researchers have proven thanks to a machine that simulates chewing movements that it does not affect the integrity of the ACE2 proteins in chewing gum.
Other than that, the researchers did not use the full SARS-CoV-2 virus in their experiments. They used a pseudotyped virus, that is, a harmless virus with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein on its surface. It is also not known whether chewing gum will be effective against the different variants of the coronavirus.
In any case, it is still a step forward in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. It will be enough just to find under which conditions the use of chewing gum will be the most effective.