Vol 5. Issue 29 / October 3, 2005

John J. Moores Donates $4 Million to Scripps Research to Combat Parasitic Diseases Afflicting Millions

San Diego business leader and philanthropist John J. Moores has contributed $4 million to The Scripps Research Institute to establish the Worm Institute for Research and Medicine (WIRM) to combat the painful, disfiguring, and debilitating diseases borne by worms that afflict hundreds of millions of people in much of the world.

WIRM will look for ways to detect the presence of parasitic worms in a person's body in the field as a diagnostic tool for public health efforts.

"This very generous gift enables Scripps Research to focus our scientific investigations on the initial cause of many severe and often fatal health threats, such as blindness, elephantiasis, even heartworm conditions in dogs: the invasion of parasitic worms in the body," said Scripps Research President Richard A. Lerner. "John's extraordinary contribution is a reflection of his desire to tackle tough health problems of enormous scope that can benefit millions of people."

Moores' gift to Scripps Research is an extension of his long-time interest in worm-carried conditions. He founded the River Blindness Foundation in 1989 to distribute a treatment for that disease in developing countries, principally in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1997, the foundation was absorbed into The Carter Center of Atlanta, where he has served on the Board of Trustees since its founding by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1994. Moores became chairman of the board in March of this year, succeeding President and Mrs. Carter. Moores also serves on the Board of Trustees of Scripps Research and is a regent of the University of California, having served as chairman from 2002-2004.

"Although parasitic worms are uncommon in the developed world, they are a major scourge for millions of impoverished people in the developing world.  Hopefully, TSRI will be able to bring its considerable expertise to this difficult and demanding area," said Moores.

River Blindness and Other Scourges

According to the director of the new institute, Kim D. Janda, who is Ely R. Callaway, Jr. Professor of Chemistry and a member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research (see Janda's faculty web page for more information), worm diseases are rare in the United States, but in many other parts of the world they afflict hundreds of millions of people. WIRM researchers will develop the basic science for a diagnostic tool for public health practitioners to detect effectively and efficiently in the field the presence of parasitic worms in a person's body.

One of the first topics WIRM investigators will tackle is the nematode (worm) that causes onchocerciasis, one of the world's leading causes of blindness. Onchocerciasis is often referred to as "river blindness" because it occurs in areas close to fast flowing water where the black flies transmitting the parasite—a tiny worm called Onchocerca volvulus—like to lay their eggs.

When the black fly bites a person suffering from river blindness, it ingests microscopic O. volvulus worms living in that person's skin. These worms move through the body of the black fly until they reach the fly's snout, and when that same fly bites another person, worm larvae can be left behind to infect a new host. The larvae grow under the skin to become parasitic worms, which can live in an infected person for as long as 14 years. During this time, they can produce hundreds of millions of new larvae and young worms that can move through the body and cause intense, persistent itching, rashes, and lesions.

In severe cases, the worms cause lesions and massive inflammation in the eyes of the infected person, leading to vision problems and blindness. The disease is a major problem in many African nations, where 99 percent of all cases occur. It is also endemic in parts of Latin America and the Middle East. According to the World Health Organization, some 18 million people in 35 countries are infected with the worm that causes river blindness, and about half a million people are blinded by their infection.

River blindness can be treated effectively with a drug that the manufacturer has provided free of charge for nearly two decades. However, there is a need to find ways to detect the worms in the field to help public health efforts curtail new infections.

In addition to river blindness, WIRM researchers anticipate their investigations to include:

  • Brugia malayi, Mansonella streptocerca, and Wuchereria bancrofti—three thread-like worms that infect some 120 million people worldwide. These parasites lodge in lymphatic tissue and cause a disease known as Lymphatic filariasis, a debilitating and disfiguring illness that causes elephantiasis—severe swelling in the genitals and limbs;

  • Dracunculis medinensis—a worm spread through unclean water that can grow to be several feet long in the body and causes a painful disease known as dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease;

  • Schistosoma mansoni—a worm carried by freshwater snails, which causes a disease known as Schistosomiasis, afflicting some 200 million people worldwide; and

  • Dirofilaria immitis—a heartworm spread by mosquitoes that infects dogs and is common in the United States.

From Business Leader to Prolific Philanthropist

John J. Moores is a business leader, prolific philanthropist, and committed volunteer trustee of numerous institutions, including the regents of the University of California, The Carter Center, and The Scripps Research Institute.

Moores is a native of Texas and received both bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Houston. He worked as a computer programmer for several companies, including IBM and Shell Oil, while completing his education. In 1980, Moores founded BMC Software. He wrote software products at BMC that improved mainframe computer operating system performance and built BMC into a significant factor in the software industry. He served as chief executive officer of BMC until 1987 and chairman until 1992. He continues to be active in providing his creative talents for the development of computer software for many start-up software companies.

Currently, he is chairman of the San Diego Padres Baseball Club, which he acquired in 1994.

Moores has made major gifts to the University of California at San Diego, San Diego State University, the University of Houston, the Carter Center, The Scripps Research Institute, St. Vincent de Paul of San Diego, San Diego Zoo, The Children's Clinic of the Californias, Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego Center for Children, among other organizations.

John and Becky Moores have been married since 1963 and have four children and four grandchildren.


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"John's extraordinary contribution is a reflection of his desire to tackle tough health problems of enormous scope that can benefit millions of people."

—Richard A. Lerner