Former Padres owner John Moores donated $2 million to The Scripps Research Institute to develop a test for river blindness, a major cause of vision loss in sub-Saharan Africa, the La Jolla-based life sciences organization announced today.
According to TSRI, the funding from Moores will be used to build on the discovery of a biomarker for the condition by Professor Kim Janda. The biomarker is detectable in patients' urine.
"For this to be of value in Third World countries we need to morph this biomarker into something that's inexpensive, simple to use, tolerant of extreme temperatures and portable -- basically distilling our finding to a test that can be carted around in a backpack,' Janda said. "This new gift will make that possible."
Moores, a former chairman of TSRI's Board of Trustees, gave $4 million to the organization in 2005 to fund research into worm-related illnesses.
River blindness, also called Onchocerciasis, affects tens of millions of people in tropical regions of Africa, Central and South America, and Yemen, according to TSRI.
River-dwelling black flies spread early stage larval worms among humans.
The worms get into the eyes and other areas of the body and trigger damaging inflammatory reactions.
Diagnostic methods include painful cutting of skin samples from patients for microscopic analysis, and an antibody test that often leads to false-positive results, according to TSRI.
Janda said he envisions developing a simple, painless urine test over the next couple of years, which would be much like a pregnancy test. "This gift has the potential to revolutionize treatment of a disease that causes widespread suffering in the developing world,'' Michael Marletta, president and CEO of TSRI, said.
More accurate diagnosis will also reduce the use of medication, and lower the risk of patients developing drug resistance, according to TSRI.