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John Walley Littlefield

Portrait of John Walley Littlefield
John Walley Littlefield
Date: 1989
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 39 x 29 in.
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John Walley Littlefield


Littlefield, a former chairman of pediatrics and physiology at Johns Hopkins, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1947, and except for two years in the Navy and three separate years of training or sabbatical leave, was associated with the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School from 1947 until 1974. During those years, he began his research in human genetics.

In 1974, Littlefield came to Baltimore to assume the position of professor and chairman of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and pediatrician-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He continued genetic research on cultured cells, and in order to spend more time in the laboratory, Littlefield moved to the department of physiology in 1985 as its chairman. He retired in June, 1992, and that same month received a master of health science degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Littlefield's contributions included discovering the role of ribosomes in protein synthesis, originating a method to isolate hybrid cells (which was used by others to localize genes to specific chromosomes and to produce monoclonal antibodies), and developing the technique of prenatal diagnosis by amniocentesis.