Who was Michiaki Takahashi, Developed the First Vaccine?

Google celebrates 94 years since the birth of the Japanese virologist, who developed the first vaccine against the virus that causes chickenpox

On February 17, 1928, Michiaki Takahashi was born in Osaka, the Japanese virologist who developed the first vaccine against chickenpox, the highly contagious infectious disease that presents with small itchy papules on various parts of the body and in most cases affects children between 5 and 10 years. Today the day of the birth of Takahashi, who died in 2013 at the age of 85, is also celebrated by the Google doodle, the drawing or animation that occasionally replaces the search engine logo to celebrate anniversaries and special days.

Takahashi studied medicine at Osaka University and joined the University’s Infectious Disease Research Institute in 1959, with a particular interest in the viruses that cause measles and polio. A few years later he moved to the United States for a research period, where his son fell ill with chickenpox : once he returned to Japan, he began to study the virus that causes the disease – which is part of the Herpes virus family – and after a few years of research in 1974 completed the first vaccine that was able to fight it, which turned out to be very effective.

Since then, explains Google in the dedication of the doodle, the vaccine developed by Takahashi has been administered to millions of girls and boys in more than 80 countries around the world, preventing millions of cases of chickenpox every year.

Upon retirement, Takahashi was awarded the position of Professor Emeritus, and in 2005 the Osaka University Infectious Disease Research Foundation established an annual vaccine research award in his honor. He died in December 2013 of a heart problem.

Michiaki Takahashi, who was the scientist to whom Google dedicates today’s doodle

The profile, the discoveries and the reasons why he devoted himself to the study of chickenpox

Google, once again, dedicates its doodle – the variation of the logo that welcomes visitors to the search engine – to a theme linked to the coronavirus pandemic. This time not directly, though. Yet in the choice to dedicate the “squiggle” (this is the literal meaning of the word doodle) to Michiaki Takahashi, the Japanese virologist who died in 2013, known to the world for having invented the varicella vaccine, it is clear the intention to underline the importance of science and research in the fight against pathologies that may seem, at first, almost unbeatable.

Who was Michiaki Takahashi

But who was the scientist honored today by the most famous search engine in the world? Takahashi, born in Osaka on February 17, 1928 – today, therefore, would have turned 94 – and died in the same city, one of the best known and most beautiful in Japan, was a virologist , known for his studies on Human Herpesvirus 3 and for devising the chickenpox vaccine. He is considered one of the most important scientists in all of Japan and his contribution to the fight against one of the most dangerous diseases for children is appreciated all over the world.

The Profile

Takahashi graduated from Osaka University with a degree in Medicine in 1954, aged 26, completing his studies five years later, in 1959, specializing in virology of poxvirus (an ovoid-shaped virus with a double-stranded DNA genome that manifests itself through skin lesions). In 1963 he moved to the United States, where he attended Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and the Fels Research Institute of Temple University in Pennsylvania for three years. His first studies concerned two other “scourges” of the last century, the measles and polio viruses .

Because He Specialized on Chickenpox

While he was in the US, his son was the victim of a violent attack of chickenpox , from which he barely survived. This episode marked him to the point of convincing him to devote all his strength to the fight against this disease. In 1965 Takahashi returned to Japan in 1965 and began cultivating live but weakened chickenpox viruses in animal and human tissues.

The Discovery of the Vaccine

After nine years of studies , conducted together with the team he had assembled to try to succeed in the undertaking of dealing a severe blow to the disease, he was able to isolate a less virulent strain of chickenpox. From here he set out to look for the first form of the vaccine. Analyzes, tests, failures lasted for a long time, being able to count – since 1981 – on the recognition by Merck , which acquired the production rights of the whey. In 1995 , finally, approval by the FDA , the US drug and food regulatory company. The vaccine was called Varivax.

Subsequent tests, conducted both on healthy individuals and on immunocompromised individuals considered to be at high risk, further ascertained the effectiveness of Takahashi’s discovery.

After the Discovery

In 1994, as the vaccine was about to be approved, Takahashi was appointed director of the study group dedicated to the analysis of infectious diseases at the University of Osaka , a role that was his until he retired from the active world of work. In 2005, a prize dedicated to him was established called “Takahashi: The Japanese Society for Vaccinology Takahashi Prize”. The virologist died on December 16, 2013, at the age of 85, of heart failure.

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