Could a cough drop made by UCF help contain the spread of COVID-19?

Research team working with FDA to create lozenge

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Last April, the University of Central Florida was awarded $200,000 by the National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research Award.

Since then, a team of researchers led by assistant professors Michael Kinzel and Kareem Ahmed have been working on a new cough drop or lozenge which could potentially avoid contamination of COVID-19.

“It’s like one of the things you strive to do as an engineer, right? How do you make life better for people,” Kinzel said.

Kinzel and Ahmed came up with the concept for the lozenge while researching for a project about fuels and engines.

“We changed the fuel property in general and by changing the fuel property you can get different behaviors,” Ahmed said. “This idea is actually the same principle that could be applied for saliva where the droplets could be altered.”

They said they are close to making a scientific breakthrough with the new cough drop.

“You could just have it in your mouth with your face mask and mitigate any transmission,” Ahmed said.

Upon completion the unique cough drop could possibly contain the spread of COVID-19 by changing the density of those droplets produced through a cough or sneeze.

“The smaller droplets are the ones that transmit the virus,” Ahmed said. "They alter the saliva through its density and make it fall faster to the ground. You’re making it thicker, heavier, more stickier if you could think of it that way. By doing that you’re producing larger droplets and the larger droplets tend to fall down.”

Kinzel said it’s an effective method of blocking transmission because the droplets would not float in the air like they typically do.

“A face mask really blocks off various big droplets that’s what it basically catches. The aerosols are little tiny droplets, they just move around the mask and just linger around,” Kinzel said. " Those are the ones that are really challenging. They could go through HVAC ducts and so forth."

And if you're not wearing a face mask, the risk of contamination to others is greater.

So, what are these UCF researchers using to produce the cough drop that would make saliva thicker?

They’re also exploring with some common kitchen ingredients.

“We’ve used organic material because obviously when you’re talking about humans we have to use organic materials,” Ahmed explained. “We’re actually getting good results with corn starch.”

The project is being worked on in collaboration with the FDA. Researchers say they have a deadline of July 1st to present a formula to the public.

About the Author: