Dr. Takahashi’s Bitrh Anniversary

Dr. Michiaki Takahashi

Japanese scientist Michiaki Takahashi, renowned for developing the varicella vaccine, would have been 94 years old on February 17. Google pays tribute to him with a special Doodle.

Takahashi was born in 1928 in Osaka, Japan. He earned his medical degree from Osaka University in 1954. He became an assistant professor at the Research Institute for Microbial Disease of Osaka University four years later. During this time, Dr. Yoshiomi Okuno led the laboratory and played a leading role in researching and developing vaccines for measles, rubella, and mumps. Takahashi dedicated his time to studying measles and polio in the research institute. In 1963, he moved to the United States with his wife and two children after accepting a research fellowship at Baylor College. The scientist went back to Japan in 1965 and became involved in tumor virus research. Still, his interest in developing a chickenpox vaccine did not diminish, and he started his project in 1970.

The varicella vaccine

At the time, Takahashi started his research by culturing live but weakened varicella-zoster virus (VZV) in animal and human tissue. However, there were concerns about the vaccination leading to other health complications, resulting in strong opposition to the development of the treatment. The varicella vaccine was developed using the VZV isolated from the vesicular fluid with typical varicella. That child’s family name was Oka, so the virus was named the Oka strain. Research continued, and after safety studies concluded, clinal trials began.

A varicella vaccination campaign was conducted on 23 uninfected pediatric patients to prevent the spread of the infection. The results were positive, with no other cases detected among the vaccinated. In 1974, a decade after his son contracted the disease, the Lancet published the findings demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the varicella Oka strain vaccine for the first time.

In 1984, the use of the vaccine was approved by eight European countries. The following year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized that the Oka strain was the best strain for producing a varicella vaccine, and in 1986 Japan approved it as well. The US approved the treatment in 1995, the same year the WHO adopted mass vaccination against varicella.

After the death of Takahashi

On December 16, 2013, Takahashi died aged 85 in Osaka, with heart failure reported as the cause of the death.

According to information listed on Doodle’s web page, Google honors him today with a Google Doodle, which guest artist Tatsuro Kiuchi created. The artist had stated that he was unaware of Takahashi’s contribution when he was approached for creating the Doodle. In a statement to Google, Kiuchi hoped that people would understand the underlying message of his Doodle that “vaccines might help overcome a disease and change the world.”

Dr. Takahashi had meagerly scientific means, and yet his contribution to the world was life-changing. Imagine what would have happened to our lives if scientists like Takahashi had access to revolutionary learning tools, like 3D Organon.


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