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Breakthrough Results Lead To Multi-Million Dollar Donation

Aired 3/26/13 on KPBS News.

Former Padres owner John Moores wants to strike-out river blindness.

— More than 40 million people worldwide are affected by a horrifying disease. River blindness, found primarily in Third World countries, is caused by a parasitic worm.

Much of the research to fight the disease is funded by former Padres owner John Moores. It's being done here in

San Diego at the Scripps Research Institute.

KPBS "Morning Edition" Anchor Deb Welsh spoke with Scripps scientist Dr. Kim Janda, who's leading much of the research:

Q. How is river blindness contracted?

A. River blindness is caused by the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus, transmitted to humans by the bites of black flies. Not only do the worms produce nodules over the infected person's body, they eventually invade the occular system of the eye and cause blindness.

Q. But this is treatable, isn't it?

A. The pathology of the disease is that the worms can live a long period of time in the human host, up to 15-20 years. The drug that is used right now for treatment, ivermectin, can only kill the baby worms. It doesn't kill the adult worms.

Q. Are you close to having a test that will indicate once someone is infected?

A. What we've been able to find, we believe, is a marker for determining whether someone has an active infection or not. We think this is going to be important going forward in trying to eradicate the disease. So, what we want to do is take our findings and try to develop a quick, painless and accurate urine test that could be readily used kind of like a home pregnancy test kit.

Q. Now, former Padres owner John Moores recently made a $2 million donation to Scripps. I'm assuming it's those types of donations that will enable you to further your research?

A. This donation, in particular, will help us to move forward in trying to come up with a field-ready diagnostic now.

Moores, a successful businessman known for his extensive philanthropy, is the former chair of the board of trustees at Scripps Research Institute. He also made a $4 million gift to fund research on the parasite in 2005. Prior to that in 1989, Moores established the "River Blindness Foundation" to develop a treatment for the disease.

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