Hiroshi Shimizu (1954-2021)

Hiroshi Shimizu (1954-2021)

On 17th February 2021, the dermatology community lost one of its greatest global citizens, Professor Hiroshi Shimizu. After serving for 21 years as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology in Hokkaido University School of Medicine in Sapporo, Hiroshi retired in 2020. Sadly, his retirement was cut short and blighted by ill-health; he left us all too soon.

Hiroshi was born in 1954 in Tokyo and graduated from Keio University School of Medicine in 1979. He then trained as a dermatology resident and obtained his PhD and Dermatology Board Certification in 1986. He worked as Assistant Professor and Associate Professor in the Keio University Department of Dermatology from 1979 to 1999 with Professor Takeji Nishikawa as his mentor, but an international life was never far from his thoughts – and in 1987 he moved to London for 2 years to experience the life of a post-doctoral research fellow working with the late Professor Robin Eady at the St John’s Institute of Dermatology. Then in 1999, he took on his position leading the department in Sapporo. On taking up this position, Robin Eady congratulated Hiroshi and told him he had the opportunity to make Hokkaido University one of the best dermatology departments and research environments in Japan. “No, Robin” was Hiroshi’s reply, “….in the world”.

And so it turned out, as anyone who visited him in Sapporo or ever received his legendary, and somewhat weighty, department annual report can accurately testify. Hiroshi’s skill in recruiting, mentoring and developing young talent was incredibly impressive. His department was built and thrived on his infectious energy and productivity. He authored more than 850 scholarly articles and published Shimizu’s Dermatology (Wiley-Blackwell), a single author textbook. Indeed, he considered this textbook, which has so far sold more than 75,000 copies, to be among his greatest academic achievements. Hiroshi’s determination in getting his young colleagues to publish in the very top journals, again and again, was truly remarkable and a reflection of his own tenacious approach to clinical and investigative dermatology. The maxim of Hokkaido University is “Boys be ambitious” and that was certainly very true for Hiroshi and his team, and an ongoing ethos for Hiroshi’s successor now leading the department, Professor Hideyuki Ujiie.

Hiroshi’s research interests were considerable, but mainly focused on genetics and genodermatoses, blistering diseases, and regenerative medicine. Over many years, Hiroshi showed an uncanny knack of acquiring key skills very quickly – or being able to recruit people with special talents to work with him. Indeed, he learnt his initial molecular biology skills during a 2-week vacation in Professor Jouni Uitto’s lab in Philadelphia, and still did enough to generate a first author Journal of Investigative Dermatology paper, as well as giving him the ideas for how to do things even bigger and better once he got back to Japan. He received numerous awards from all parts of the world, including being made an honorary member of the ESDR in 2013 at the IID meeting held in Edinburgh.

Hiroshi’s ability to transform and regenerate was also reflected in his successful period as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Dermatological Science from 2003 to 2008, the official journal of the Japanese Society for Investigative Dermatology, for which he also worked as Secretary General and board member. During his period in charge, the impact factor and quality of the Journal soared. Hiroshi also served on the editorial board of 10 international journals, including the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

But any reflection on the life of Hiroshi Shimizu would be amiss if it did not mention the collegiality and hospitality which he afforded so many people from across the world. “I don’t know how he finds the energy to do what he does” is a thought that most of us had about Hiroshi every time we met him. But somehow, he did. There are scores of us, perhaps from every country on Earth, from school students to budding scientists to emeritus professors to members of the British Royal Family, who will all have personal stories to tell about Hiroshi. And when the dust settles on mutual conferences, lectures, publications, and the like, what truly sticks in the memory of our times shared with Hiroshi is the fun, the humour, the warmth, and the best of all friendships.

Hiroshi’s life changed somewhat after suffering a minor stroke in his late 50s and then when he developed renal failure and had to begin haemodialysis at the age of 62. But despite ill health, bone fractures and further hospitalizations, his energetic spirit never left him. With him during good times and bad has been his wonderful wife and companion, Satoko. Hiroshi is also survived by his two sons, Taiga and Daichi, both pursuing careers outside medicine but with the same dynamism and internationality as their father. We send our condolences and thank you for sharing Hiroshi with us all.


John McGrath

London, March 2021