Dr. Michael Makler '58
"I didn't know the issues surrounding the pathology of malaria," says Piper about the time when he first started working with Makler at the Portland Veterans Hospital in 1985. However, they both knew that the malaria parasite produced an abundant enzyme called parasite lactate dehydrogenase, or pLDH, which could be distinguished from similar human enzymes by a unique chemical assay. This assay was developed into a method used for evaluation of antimalarial drugs, but it was not sensitive enough for diagnosis of a small number of parasites in the blood.
Piper resolved this problem by figuring out a way to purify the enzyme. Next came putting together chemical reagents that helped specifically detect the pLDH enzyme. The pair then worked together to test and refine the technique. They soon found that they had a simple dip stick method that would consistently and accurately diagnose and speciate malaria parasites in the blood. It would also be relatively easy to make and ship to malariologists and physicians around the world.
"I was reading my journals when I ran across a paper written by a certain Dr. Michael Makler describing a method of doing drug sensitivity on malaria parasites without use of radioactivity." Martin was intrigued and immediately called Portland. He was put in touch with Makler. "I mentioned I had lived in Portland and had majored in biology at Reed College; we talked for hours."
Makler later traveled to Kenya to meet Martin, where the pair field tested OptiMAL prototypes with encouraging results. Piper and Martin recently field tested the OptiMAL stick in Central America. Although Martin has no formal connection to Flow or stake in the company, he is an enthusiastic supporter. "I can safely say it is what is needed today for malaria diagnosis. User-friendly, accurate, low-tech. It has the potential to bring first-world diagnostic capability into the remotest village where malaria takes its highest toll."