Nearly 60 years ago, a 3-year-old boy with chickenpox inspired his father to create a vaccine to treat the highly contagious disease. That man was Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, and his vaccine is now used to protect millions of children all over the world from the disease.
To highlight Takahashi’s contribution to health and science, Google on Thursday is dedicating its Doodle to the Japanese virologist on his 94th birthday. The Doodle depicts Takahashi conducting research to isolate the virus, which causes an itchy, blistery-like rash that spreads across the entire body.
Takahashi, who had spent years studying the measles and polio viruses in Japan, was on a research fellowship in the mid-1960s at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas when his young son, Teruyuki, contracted chickenpox from a playmate. Two weeks after Teruyuki’s exposure, he developed a rash on his face that quickly spread across his body, Takahashi recalled in a 2011 article for the Financial Times.
“His symptoms progressed quickly and severely,” Takahashi told the FT. “His temperature shot up and he began to have trouble breathing. He was in a terrible way, and all my wife and I could do was to watch him day and night. We didn’t sleep. He seemed so ill that I remember worrying about what would happen to him.”
His son eventually recovered, but, Takahashi said, “I realized then that I should use my knowledge of viruses to develop a chickenpox vaccine.”
Takahashi, who was born in Osaka in 1928, returned to Japan in 1965 and began intense research of the virus. After five years of working with live but weakened versions of the virus in animal and human cells, he’d developed an early version of the vaccine that was ready for clinical trials. The Oka vaccine for the varicella virus that causes chickenpox was developed in 1974, and widespread vaccination began in Japan and other countries in 1986.
Takahashi later served on the board of directors of the Research Foundation for Microbial Diseases of Osaka University. He died in 2013 at the age of 85.