Gum for COVID-19 might be a thing one day.
A study titled “Debulking SARS-CoV-2 in saliva using angiotensin converting enzyme 2 in chewing gum to decrease oral virus transmission and infection” recently came out in the journal Molecular Therapy. It is a very complicated study to read and unless you have a good understanding of molecular biology, reading the article will be more painful than productive. If you’re not a “sciency” person, there is a graphic in the study that, in my opinion, is the one part of the study that can help you get an understanding of what the gum does. That said, I wanted to try to simplify it as best I could, just so you guys are aware of the different types of drugs and therapies that are being researched for COVID-19, a disease that will most likely be with us for a long time.
Basically, the gum is designed to be a “trap” for the virus. It’s designed to “trap” the virus before the virus has a chance to bind to receptors in your mouth and infect you. COVID-19 reproduces a lot in the salivary glands, meaning virus is secreted into the saliva. The saliva can then serve as a significant source of transmission.
The gum for COVID-19 is made of something called cholera toxin B (CTB) and ACE2, or Angiotensin Converting Enzme which allows it to bind directly to the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus. You’ve probably heard a lot about the spike protein, as that is what the vaccines are targeted against. Consider the spike protein the virus’s key to open the door to get inside our cells. Blocking the virus’s key will keep it from getting inside. ( Think of a key getting stuck in gum. 😉 ) The gum not only traps the virus, but it also blocks the ACE2/GM1 receptors on your cells. The virus binds to the ACE2/GM1 receptors to get inside your cells. If you consider the spike protein the virus’s “key”, think of the ACE2/GM1 receptor as the door it opens to get inside your cells and infect you.
The gum has not been tested in people yet, just lab studies. A successful lab study doesn’t translate into a successful human study, so we’ll have to do those to understand how well it works. But the lab results look promising. Basically, the researchers created a psuedotype virus with the spike protein to see how it would interact with the gum and how well the gum would prevent it from infecting cells. The gum significantly blocked infection in a dose-dependent manner, which means that more gum resulted in more blockage of infection. That’s a good thing. Also, samples of COVID positive saliva that were mixed with the gum for COVID-19 showed a reduction in the virus compared to saliva samples that were not mixed with the gum. Again, this is a simplified version of the results meant to give you the key take-away points. You can read the whole article here.
The reason I like the idea of gum for COVID-19 is that it would be 1) easy to distribute broadly to people; 2) it’s not a needle or an injection so it’s something that would go over well with mostly everyone 3) chewing gum is easy 4) it could be used in social situations or doctor-office visits to help cut down on transmission. Of course the marketability will also depend on designing the gum so it doesn’t taste bad and it not having any bad side effects.
I’ll keep you posted if any more developments in the land of COVID Gum happen.
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