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The Medical Bond: Pig mucus could fight off viruses in toothpaste, other products

New Contributor III
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OK, this one sounds pretty gross at first, but using a substance found in pig mucus to ward off viruses in personal hygiene products, such as wound ointments and toothpastes, or even in baby formula really does make a lot of sense.

Mucus coats the inside of the nose and mouth and is normally the immune system’s first line of defense. Slimy mucus traps disease-causing microbes before they can make you sick. But what components of mucus are responsible, and could these substances be used in products to help protect humans against a wide range of viruses?

In a Biomacromolecules paper recently published by ACS, Katharina Ribbeck and colleagues report that “mucins” found in pig mucus can do just that.

But why pig mucus? Simply put, pigs are mucus machines — their stomachs are a great source of large amounts of mucus. Although human mucins appeared to have antiviral activity in previously reported studies, it’s not really feasible to get these from people. Human breast milk is one fairly easily obtainable source, but it cannot provide the industrial-sized quantities that would be needed to supplement consumer products.

So, pig mucin it is. But the problem was that no one had studied whether pig mucins have this type of antiviral activity. So, the researchers set out to determine if pig mucus — already used as a component of artificial saliva to treat patients with “dry mouth”— can fight off viruses.

They found that pig mucus is effective at blocking a range of viruses, from strains of influenza to the human papilloma virus, which is associated with cervical and oral cancer. The exact ways that mucins do this still need to be explored, the researchers say.

They report that pig mucins could be added to toothpastes, mouthwashes, wound ointments and genital lubricants to protect against viral infections. “We envision porcine gastric mucins to be promising antiviral components for future biomedical applications,” the report says.

Hmm, makes you wonder where researchers will look next for anti-microbial or disease-fighting substances… Have any ideas? Tell us in the comments section.

“Mucin Biopolymers as Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Agents,” Biomacromolecules


Credit: iStock