Why Google honors Dr Michiaki Takahashi A look at the life and work of Michiaki Takahashi, the scientist that developed the chickenpox vaccine. Japanese scientist Michiaki Takahashi, renowned for the development of the varicella vaccine, would have been 94 years old on February 17. Takahashi, who died in 2013, is also recognized for his research on measles and polio vaccines.

On Thursday, Google is changing its logo in 13 countries to a doodle, or illustration, in his honour. This is his story: Takahashi, who died in 2013, is also recognized for his research on measles and polio vaccines.

Early studies Takahashi was born in 1928 in Osaka, Japan. He earned his medical degree from Osaka University in 1954. Four years later, he became an assistant professor at the Research Institute for Microbial Disease of Osaka University. During this time, Dr Yoshiomi Okuno led the laboratory and played a leading role in researching and developing vaccines for measles, rubella and mumps.

Chickenpox in his family After that, Takahashi became aware of the severity of varicella despite it being regarded as a mild illness. “I realized then that I should use my knowledge of viruses to develop a chickenpox vaccine,” he told the Financial Times.

Vaccine research “At that time there was fear that the chickenpox virus might be linked to cancer so a vaccine could end up being carcinogenic,” he told the Financial Times. However, Takahashi was convinced of the relevance of the treatment and continued his research. “Successful development of varicella vaccine will have large benefits,” he said according to ClinicalKey, a medical journal.

The vaccine ‘fools the immune system’ The report said that “no troublesome clinical reactions were noticed and the spread of varicella infection was prevented, with the exception of one severe case in an unvaccinated patient.” The vaccine “fools the immune system into thinking it has seen this disease before”, 

“It’s the only vaccine successful against any of the human herpes viruses,” she added. In 1984, use of the vaccine was approved by eight European countries. The next year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised 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.

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

The varicella vaccine was developed by using the VZV isolated from the vesicular fluid of a child 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.