Skip to Main Content

John Walley Littlefield

John Walley Littlefield


Littlefield, a 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 at the age of twenty-one and then from 1947 to 1950 completed an internship and residency in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Littlefield next completed a fellowship at the United States Public Health Service, Institute of Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He then served as a medical officer in the United States Naval Reserve aboard the USS Repose from 1952 to 1954 before returning to Massachusetts General Hospital for a two year clinical and research fellowship in medicine. From 1947 to 1974, Littlefield was associated with the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard University Medical School where he began his research in human genetics. From 1957 to 1958, he served as a research assistant to James Watson and Francis Crick in Cambridge, England.

In 1974, Littlefield moved 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 University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Littlefield’s scientific 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.

Littlefield was the author of more than 200 scientific publications. Littlefield was active in several professional societies including the Association of American Physicians, the American Pediatric Society and served as president of the American Society of Human Genetics in 1983.   Harvard awarded him the Henry Asbury Christian Award in 1947 and The Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation appointed him as a Macy Faculty Scholar in 1978.  In 1977, Littlefield was named to the National Academy of Sciences. He co-authored a history of the department of pediatrics, The Harriet Lane Home: A Model and a Gem, in 2007.

"*" indicates required fields

Tell Us More

Can you tell us more about this person? Have you spotted an error? Is there information missing? If you have new information to share, please complete the form below.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.