How chewing gum could stop the spread of COVID

Whatever your life experiences of chewing gum, using it to stop COVID is surely not one of them. But, thanks to the wonders of science, that looks about to change.

In my life, chewing gum has provided me with both good memories and bad. The bad ones involve big colourful wads getting stuck on the soles of my shoes and gum pulling out a filling.

The good ones relate to footy cards. The gum was nice enough but the real pleasure came from seeing which cards you’d scored.

Read: Am I eligible for COVID-19 antiviral medications?

Chewing gum is also spruiked for its health benefits, with manufacturers claiming it boosts saliva production, which helps to prevent tooth decay.

But researchers at the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have taken chewing gum’s medicinal powers to new heights, it seems. They are preparing the first human trial of an experimental chewing gum that ‘traps’ COVID particles in saliva.

How is that a good thing? Dental school Professor Henry Daniell explains: “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.”

Read: Long COVID can cause hair loss and reduced libido

The school’s experimental chewing gum uses an ‘ACE2’ protein taken from engineered hydroponic lettuce. ACE2 proteins are on the surface of many cells and serve as the entry point for the coronavirus to infect us. While being chewed, the ACE2 proteins basically lure and trap the virus, halting the cycle of replication.

Early results have been extremely promising. In test-tube experiments using saliva from individuals who had been infected with either the Delta or Omicron COVID variants, the virus particles attached themselves to the ACE2 receptors in the gum and the viral load fell to undetectable levels.

Clinical trials are now being prepared. They will involve COVID patients chewing four ACE2 gum tablets each day for four days, after which their saliva will be analysed for viral load.

Read: Is ‘blood washing’ the answer to long COVID?

If the trials replicate the success of the test tube experiments, the gum could be a cheap and easy addition to the arsenal of tools used to suppress the transmission of COVID.

The Pennsylvania University researchers have also tried a second type of gum, derived from bean powder rather than from lettuce, which may have benefits beyond stopping COVID. According to the study, this version “not only traps SARS-CoV-2 particles in lab experiments, but also influenza strains and other coronaviruses that cause common colds”.

Good news, indeed. So the next time you get frustrated at having to grab a stick to clean a sticky mess from the tread of your shoes, cheer yourself up with the thought that chewing gum is now being used for good, as well as evil.

Have you had COVID? Did you manage to get the anti-viral drugs? Are you coming to grips with the possibility COVID is here forever? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

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Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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