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John W. Littlefield was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his M.D. in 1947 from the Harvard University Medical School, and except for two years in the Navy and three separate years of training or sabbatical leave, he 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 the Master of Health Science degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Littlefield’s contributions included discovering the role of ribsomes 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 amniosentesis.

Scope and Content

The John W. Littlefield Collection spans his entire career at Johns Hopkins. It consists of correspondence, committee files, reprints, administrative records, financial records, and faculty planning materials. A series of historical reprints includes articles by Edwards Park, Joseph Brennemann, and Lawson Wilkins. There are files with information on typhoid, pneumonia, and salmonella infections. A file on procedures (c.1950s) for the premature nursery of the Harriet Lane Home is also included.

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