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Joshua Lederberg Papers 1904-2008
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Biographical Note

James Augustine Shannon (1904-1994) was born in New York City. He graduated from College of the Holy Cross in 1925, and received his M.D. (1929) and Ph.D. (1935) from New York University. From 1935 to 1941, he worked primarily in the Physiological Laboratories at NYU, while also working at Bellevue Hospital. He then moved to Goldwater Hospital as director of medical research, and then to Squibb Institute for Medical Research in 1946. Shannon began his public health service in 1949 when he became Associate Director of the newly formed National Heart Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Three years later he was appointed Associate Director for Intramural Affairs at NIH, finally becoming NIH Director in 1955, a post he held until 1968. He spent the next two years with the National Academy of Sciences. In 1970 he became Professor and Special Assistant to the President of the Rockefeller University. Shannon retired to Portland, OR. in 1975.

Shannon's contributions to scientific research were in the field of kidney physiology. Between 1931-1941, he was the primary figure in the transformation of renal physiology from a qualitative observational science to a highly precise quantitative one. Shannon's experiments produced a number of fundamental chemical procedures to quantitatively measure exogenous compounds in both blood and urine. His research techniques and methodology also had a much broader impact, finding their way into other areas of basic and clinical physiology. During World War II, Shannon played a large role in the military's malaria research activities, working with the National Research Council and as a consultant on tropical diseases for the Secretary of War. Atabrine was administered in a dosage program developed by Shannon that successfully suppressed malaria in millions of troops throughout the South Pacific, becoming a more effective drug than quinine.

Shannon's administrative career began as director of the Squibb Institute for Medical Research, where he developed strong research programs in pharmacology, neuro-muscular physiology, and in the chemistry of proteins and amino acids. He then moved to start a research program for the newly formed National Heart Institute, where after three years he had established a balanced basic and clinical research program covering a spectrum of activities, ranging from studies of mechanisms of protein synthesis to clinical investigations of surgical treatments for congenital heart problems. Shannon's personal leadership played a significant role in the enormous expansion of NIH's operating expenditures, personnel and laboratory space during the 1950s and 1960s. In his various NIH leadership positions, he exerted a dominant influence on the orientation and shaping of all NIH program areas, while at the same time insisting that NIH support and solidify its relationship with academic institutions. During Shannon's tenure as NIH Director, often referred to as NIH's "golden years," the Institutes expanded the Federal government's role, and ability, to be the largest supporter of independent medical research in the country.