Monday, 23 December 2013

Takahashi, Who Tamed Chickenpox, Dies At 85

Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, whose experience caring for his 3-year-old son after the boy contracted chickenpox led him to develop a vaccine for the virus that is now used all over the world, died Monday in Osaka, Japan.He was 85.

The cause was heart failure, said his longtime secretary, Maki Fukui.                                            
In 1964 Dr. Takahashi, who had spent several years studying the measles and polio viruses in Japan, was on a research fellowship at Baylor Medical College in Houston when his son, Teruyuki, came down with a severe case of chickenpox after playing with a friend who had the virus.

“My son developed a rash on his face that quickly spread across his body,” Dr. Takahashi Dies recalled in a 2011 interview with The Financial Times. “His symptoms progressed quickly and severely. 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.”

“But gradually, the symptoms lessened and my son recovered,” he added. “I realized then that I should use my knowledge of viruses to develop a chickenpox vaccine.”

He returned to Japan in 1965 and within five years had developed an early version of the vaccine. By 1972 he was experimenting with it in clinical trials. Within a few years, Japan and some other countries had begun widespread vaccination programs. Yet the Food and Drug Administration did not approve the United States’ first chickenpox vaccine until 1995.

The delay was caused by several factors, including concerns that the immunity created by the vaccine might not last long enough, that there could be unwanted side effects and, more generally, that chickenpox might not be a serious enough disease to warrant a vaccination program.

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