Is this Chewing Gum the New Opponent against the Coronavirus?
At times the solution to a problem could be right beneath the nose, an organ otherwise used by germs and bacteria as preferable invasion spots, with the coronavirus being globally infamous for causing quite a ruckus within the human anatomy. There have been no boundaries to how far this biological fiend continues its heinous crimes. From fatally wrecking anatomies to shaking economies of the world, finding an effective solution to rid the virus is still in pursuit. Until then, humanity continues to fight it through social distancing norms, technology and vaccinations in particular which have been remarkable in curbing the spread.
However, another solution is grabbing quite the attention on how it promises to trap the virus by reducing its viral load infested in the saliva of the mouth. This is not a pill, rather a chewing gum that’s been sent for the job.
This is no Ordinary Chewing Gum
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wistar Institute, and Fraunhofer USA have joined hands on a quest discovering a unique chewing gum containing a plant-grown protein can trap the SARS-CoV-2 virus, lowering viral load in saliva and limiting COVID transmission.
Henry Daniell, the leader of the study from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine, said: “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. 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 COVID transmission”.
Their findings were published in the journal Molecular Therapy and could be beneficial when it comes to developing a new weapon against the coronavirus.
The story follows long before the arrival of the pandemic, when Daniell had been looking at the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) proteins as a potential treatment for hypertension. Using a novel plant-based production technology, his team was able to grow this protein, as well as a number of others with therapeutic potential. Since the ACE2 receptor on human cells is known to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and injections of ACE2 have been observed to lower viral load in persons with severe infections, this work has proven to be incredibly valuable in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon another effort ensued making a chewing gum laced with plant-grown proteins to disrupt dental plaque, which led the scientists to test whether a gum laced with plant-grown ACE2 proteins could neutralise SARS-CoV-2 in the oral cavity. To investigate this possibility, the researchers worked with Ronald Collman's team at Penn Medicine, who had been collecting blood, nasal swabs, saliva, and other biospecimens from COVID-19 patients since the outbreak began.
Collman, a virologist and pulmonary and critical care doctor says that Daniell, who had approached the former questioning the kind of samples to be used for testing the level of the SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva, became a cross school collaboration building for microbiomes.
The Development of the Chewing Gum
The researchers cultivated ACE2 in plants with another component that allows the protein to pass mucosal barriers and enhances binding, then incorporated the resulting plant material into cinnamon-flavoured gum tablets to study the chewing gum's potential. The researchers next used the gum to incubate samples from nasopharyngeal swabs from COVID-positive individuals, revealing that the ACE2 present might neutralize SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
While they kept at it, the researchers began modifying viruses that were less harmful than SARS-CoV-2 to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The researchers were able to show that the gum effectively blocked COVID transmission into the cells by either inhibiting the ACE2 receptor or binding directly to the spike protein.
The Moment of Truth
Finally, after exposing COVID-19 saliva samples to the gum, the researchers discovered that viral RNA levels had reduced to near undetectable levels. The team is now attempting to get authorization to perform clinical trials to see if the chewing gum is safe and effective in persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Commenting on the development, Collman said, “Henry’s approach of making the proteins in plants and using them orally is inexpensive, hopefully scalable; it really is clever”.
Although the study is still in its early stages, if clinical studies show that the gum is safe and effective, it might be given to patients whose infection status is unclear or during dental check-ups when masks must be removed, potentially reducing the risk of COVID transmission.
Moving on to the other bodily fluid, blood, a recent study from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, found that blood groups A, B, and Rh+ are more susceptible to COVID-19 infection, but blood groups O, AB, and Rh- are at a considerably reduced risk.
Blood Groups Vulnerable to the Spread of the Coronavirus
Between April and October last year, 2,586 COVID-19 positive participants were admitted to the hospital for the study. The findings were reported in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
“Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is a new virus, and it is unclear whether blood groups have any impact on COVID-19 risk or progression. Therefore, we investigated the association of ABO and Rh blood group with COVID-19 susceptibility, prognosis, recovery time, and mortality in this study,” said Dr. Rashmi Rana, Consultant, Department of Research.
“We also found that male patients with blood group B are more prone to COVID-19 than female patients with the same blood group and blood group AB was observed to be more susceptible to infection in patients with age group above 60 years”, said Dr. Vivek Ranjan, Co-author and Chairperson, Department of Blood Transfusion.
“The ABO or Rh blood groups may not be responsible for this connection, as these may signal an undiscovered underlying component like comorbidity”, the study concluded. To determine the link between blood types and SARS-CoV-2, bigger, multicenter, and prospective studies are required”.
There’s no telling when the reign of the corona era would fall. As many factors have a role, including public attempts to slow the spread of the virus, researchers' efforts to understand more about the virus, their search for a treatment, and vaccine success.