Researchers creating special cough drop that could help protect others from COVID-19

The researchers received a grant to work on a specialized lozenge that could alter saliva.


Whether it's standing six feet apart or making sure you're wearing a mask, all the medical guidelines on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 revolve around not spreading the virus through droplets, which experts say can travel six feet.

However, two researchers from the University of Central Florida are working on something that could make those droplets heavier, falling to the ground instead of spreading out to the person beside you.

"The idea is to alter the property of the saliva itself," Kareem Ahmed said.

Kareem Ahmed and Michael Kinzel are both mechanical and aerospace engineering researchers who study fluid mechanics at UCF.

Recently, they received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to work on a lozenge or gum-like compound with cornstarch that could help add an extra layer in COVID-19 protection in addition to face masks.

"When you have a regular sneeze you can see the aerosols propagate further along a longer distance, whereas when you take a few milligrams of cornstarch and you have it in your mouth as part of your saliva and you sneeze, the droplets fall almost immediately," Ahmed said.

Ahmed and Kinzel have been working on the project for about three weeks using mostly household products.

They stress the lozenge shouldn't be used as a substitute but rather a compliment to face masks, which they say still let through some aerosols.

The solution isn't as simple as grabbing any cough drop.

"Just a regular cough drop that induces a lot of saliva is actually — it actually increases the transmitability of COVID-19, for example," Kinzel said.

They're hopeful for definitive results by July 1, at which time they hope another grant could help mass production.

"It's the scale-up that would be the challenges. Making a product real quickly and getting it so you can pick it up from your regular grocery store," Ahmed said.

The researchers say they're working closely with the FDA to ensure they're following all appropriate guidelines.