Makler, an M.D. and pathologist who recently retired from the faculty at Oregon Health Sciences University, teamed up with Robert Piper '85, now an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, to develop the test. OptiMAL employs a reactive strip of paper, a drop of blood, and chemical and immunological reagents to detect an enzyme produced by living malaria parasites.

The third Reedie, Colonel Sam Martin '72 (see story on page 2) has field-tested OptiMAL as part of his continuing scientific interest in the disease.

The trio came together at different times and different places seemingly by chance. But all three soon found commonalty in their Reed background and an interest in making a difference in the battle against disease.

Makler and Piper were the first to cross paths. "I first met Michael on the TriMet bus," recalls Piper. "He was taking a class at Reed. He told me he was a pathologist and we got to talking about techniques to immunolabel cells."

A partnership developed between biology students Piper and Makler. "We each do what the other couldn't do," says Makler. Piper brought expertise in molecular biology. Makler brought medical knowledge--and personal experience. As a child Makler lived in Africa and saw firsthand the ravages of disease there. On a fact-finding visit to the University of San Francisco's hospital, he met Dr. James Leech, an infectious disease specialist. He says he was "mentally converted" to develop a test that would aid in its diagnosis.

"This disease has killed more people, mainly kids and pregnant women, than any other in the world, even more than the plague," notes Makler. Medical advances, swamp draining, and anti-mosquito campaigns have made the disease less of a scourge during recent wars, but just as the Anopheles mosquito has evolved ways around DDT and other pesticides, malaria too has found ways to persist.

The parasite makes itself comfortable in human hosts, sometimes hiding dormant in the liver, other times actually changing the surface of red blood cells it inhabits, causing the cells to stick to vessel walls. As the parasite wreaks havoc in the blood stream, discarded cellular material causes the body to react with fever and chills. It also leaves other telltale signs that Makler and Piper learned to exploit.


Merozoite entering human red cell

Merozoite (asexual stage) entering human red cell






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