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Michiaki Takahashi: Google honors varicella vaccine maker

Today’s Google Doodle is a tribute to Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, the Japanese virologist who created a varicella vaccine still used today.

The life of Michiaki Takahashi

Michiaki Takahashi was born on February 17, 1928 – 94 years ago today – in Osaka, Japan. After graduating from Osaka University, Takahashi remained at the university as part of its Microbial Disease Research Institute from 1959. By this time, he had majored in virology.

In 1963, Michiaki Takahashi joined a fellowship at Baylor Medical College in Houston. The following year, Takahashi’s son Teruyuki caught a severe case of chicken pox. As Teruyuki fully recovered, having experienced the effects of this virus through the eyes of a relative, Takahashi focused his full attention on preventing others from having to deal with the disease.

Back in Japan in 1965, Michiaki Takahashi began work on making a weakened version of the chickenpox virus. The basic concept was to introduce this weakened virus into the body so that the correct antibodies could be produced naturally by the immune system. So if ever the real chickenpox virus were caught, the immune system would quickly be ready to fight the disease.

Within a few years, Takahashi had managed to produce an early version of the vaccine that was ready for clinical trials. By 1974, the vaccine was complete and had undergone extensive testing internationally. In 1986, this vaccine was distributed in Japan, making the country the first to offer a varicella vaccine approved by the World Health Organization. Pharmaceutical companies developed Takahashi’s work further, their adjustments resulting in the varicella vaccine introduced in the United States in 1995 and still in use around the world today.

Michiaki Takahashi died on December 16, 2013.

Michiaki Takahashi’s Google Doodle

To honor the works and memory of Michiaki Takahashi, Google has commissioned a homepage Doodle from the Japanese artist Tatsuro Kiuchi. In a very brief interview with the artist on the Google Doodle BlogKiuchi humorously shares that he was unaware of Takahashi’s work.

Q. What were your first thoughts when you were approached to work on this Doodle?

A: Who is Michiaki Takahashi? I did not know this person.

The Doodle artwork itself features six carefully shaped illustrations like the letters in “Google”. The initial “G” represents Takahashi working hard while looking through a microscope. The first “o” shows a child with the telltale rashes of chickenpox, while the middle letters “og” show Takahashi applying a bandage to a child’s arm after the injection.

The letter “l” indicates that the number of cases dropped significantly after the vaccine was developed – compared to more than 4 million cases per year in the United States before the vaccine. And the letter “e” is in the shape of a shelf containing two vials of varicella vaccine.

More Google Doodles

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