Most people carry the herpes virus, although only a few suffer with recurrent cold sores. Advances in gene editing pose the promise of getting rid of the virus for good.

Herpes simplex virus causes a range of affects on the human body. These are named according to the location. One of the most common forms is oral herpes, which involves the face or mouth and where cold sores (blisters) are sometimes apparent.

More serious is genital herpes (ulcers.) These can cause fever, muscle pains, swollen lymph nodes and headaches.

There are also life-threatening forms, such as herpes of the brain. For serious cases, a drug can be given which blocks the enzyme required by the virus to copy its DNA. Even here, the virus remains dormant in the body and regular doses of medications are required to keep the virus in check.

With a new breakthrough, Professor Robert Jan Lebbink of the University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands, propose that gene editing can be used to get rid of the virus for good. This involves using CRISPR, the gene-editing technique. CRISPR is an acronym for “Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats.”

As Digital Journal described earlier, it is a relatively new genome editing tool that functions like molecular scissors. The method allows scientists to modify an organism’s DNA.

In trials, against certain types of herpes virus, the researchers successfully used CRISPR technology to cut viral DNA at two key places the DNA will cannot be repaired properly and the virus is deactivated.

Talking with New Scientist magazine, Professor Lebbink said: “We could efficiently remove the latent genome from infected cells, essentially curing cells from their invader.”

On Twitter, scientist Erik Rose (@crumplecup) enthused it would be an “exciting application of CRISPR/Cas9 in #biology and #health.”

The research is published in PLoS Pathogens, in the paper: “Towards a cure for herpesviruses: Targeting infection with CRISPR/Cas9.”