By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Could specially-treated chewing gum help fight COVID-19? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say yes, and they’re submitting their findings to the FDA.

Researchers at Penn have developed a new experimental chewing gum that could slow the transmission of COVID. It works on saliva, which is the main way the virus is spread.

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At the core of this research is a common vegetable. It might look like ordinary lettuce, but it could one day help fight COVID-19.

“We are able to completely abolish the virus 95%,” University of Pennsylvania scientist Henry Daniell said.

Daniell is leading a study that uses specially treated lettuce to make a chewing gum that helps prevent the transmission of COVID.

Researchers have taken everyday lettuce and infused it with a protein that can neutralize COVID.

“The protein in the gum blocks the entry of the virus into the human cells,” Daniell said.

Why gum? Because saliva is the main way coronavirus is transmitted.

Using saliva samples from COVID patients at Penn, researchers say the gum was able to trap the virus. The Penn team is now preparing to apply for emergency use authorization.

“We are pretty excited to get this to the finish line,” Daniell said.

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The gum is designed to prevent or limit transmission of the virus, not prevent people from getting it.

Slides show the virus, which looks like bubbles, with ordinary gum — a placebo. There’s no impact. But the virus bubbles are substantially reduced with the treated gum.

“Only when we put this viral trap protein it works,” Daniell said of the gum.

The gum research is in the early stages and hasn’t been tested on humans yet, but the same protein has been used to treat other diseases.

“We use it for COVID now, but before that, this was developed to treat heart failure and hypertension,” Daniell said.

But how does the gum taste? It’s cinnamon flavored.

“No different than any other gum,” Daniell said.

The gum appears to work for about five hours so it would be used on an as-needed basis.

The Penn researchers say they’ve passed the first round of FDA questioning. If they get the emergency use authorization, they can start testing it on people.

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There’s no timetable yet on when this might be available.

Stephanie Stahl