Rebecca C. Lancefield

Rebecca Craighill Lancefield (1895 - 1981)

Rebecca Craighill Lancefield (1895-1981) was an American bacteriologist.

She is eponymously known for her serological classification of beta haemolytic streptococci into Lancefield groups.

She was also amongst the first to show that Strep. Pyogenes infection was the cause of rheumatic fever.

  • Born Rebecca Craighill on January 5, 1895 in Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, NY to William E Craighill and Mary Wortley Byram
  • 1912 – Liberal arts (reach and English literature), Wellesley College
  • 1916 – Graduated with a Bachelors degree in zooology, Wellesley College
  • 1918 – Married Donald E. Lancefield, MA bacteriology, Columbia University. Masters degree from Columbia University
  • 1921 – Moved to Oregon
  • 1925 – PhD, Columbia University
  • 1943-1944 President of the Society of American Bacteriologists (second woman)
  • 1946 – Promoted to associate member at the Rockefeller Institute
  • 1958 – Promoted to full member at professor at Rockefeller Institute. Became Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University.
  • 1960 – Received the T. Duckett Jones Memorial Award of the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation
  • 1961-1962 President of American Association of Immunologists (first woman elected)
  • 1964 – Received the Research Achievement Award of the American Heart Association
  • 1965 – Became emeritus professor
  • 1968 – The Second Griffith Memorial Lecture, delivered before the Society of General Microbiology in England. The first Armine T. Wilson Memorial Oration delivered in Wilmington
  • 1973 – New York Academy of Medicine medal. Honorary Doctor of Science, Rockefeller University
  • 1976 – Honorary degree from Wellesley College
  • 1977 – Lancefield society created
  • Member of the Commission on Streptococcal Diseases of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board; Member of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Died on March 3, 1981 aged 86, due to complications from a hip fracture

Medical Eponyms

Serological differentiation of streptococci and the underlying biological principles are the framework for all present studies of the epidemiology and pathogenesis of streptococcal disease.

Lancefield commenced her work into streptococcus at the Rockefeller institute during World War I, where she worked with O.T.Avery and A.R. Dochez. She studied strains isolated from an epidemic in military camps, and recognised serological differences between them.

Lancefield developed a system of streptococci classification into several distinct serological groups on the basis of precipitin reactions with carbohydrate like antigens on the cell wall. She noticed that there was a clear correlation between serological subtype and the natural habitat of the streptococci. This led to her labelling the common streptococcal organisms in humans “Group A”.

Lancefield revealed a Group A streptococcal surface antigen that she called “Protein M”. She identified that this is responsible for the bacteria’s  virulence because it inhibits phagocytosis, thus keeping the white blood cells from engulfing the streptococci. She later identified two further Group A surface proteins; The T-antigen (1940) and the R-antigen (1957).

Her research later revealed that Group B streptococci lacked the M-Protein; she clarified the role of polysaccharides in their virulence.

Lancefield classification (1928)

Lancefield initially divided Streptococci into Group A and Group B.

Group A represented highly virulent human pathogens, and agents of sore throat; scarlet fever; erysipelas and post streptococcal sequelae of acute rheumatic fever and acute glomerulonephritis. Group B originally described bovine streptococcol infections, however this group were later recognised to cause infections in neonates such as Meningitis B.

Today, Lancefield groups include groups A through to H and K through to V.

  • Group A – Strep. pyogenes
  • Group B – Strep. agalactiae, Strep. halichoteri
  • Group C – Strep. equisimilis, Strep. equi, Strep. zooepidemicus, Strep. dysgalactiae 
  • Group D – Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Enterococcus durans, Strep. bovis.
  • Group F, G & L – Strep. anginosus
  • Group H – Strep. sanguis
  • Group K – Strep. salivarius
  • Group L – Strep. dysgalactiae
  • Group M & O – Strep. mitis
  • Group N – Lactococcus lactis
  • Group R & S – Strep. suis

Lancefield herself identified over 50 types of Group A streptococci during her career, subdivided by antigenic properties dictated by the M protein composition.

Lancefield method (1928)

The test used to show to which Lancefield group a bacterium belongs is an immuno-precipitation test using specific antisera, which produces visible precipitates. Serotypes are identified by means of antibodies that combine only with the antigens of that serotype.

Major Publications



Eponymous terms

Graduated from Cardiff Medical School in 2017 with MBBCh and BSc in Psychology and Medicine. Currently working as a doctor in the emergency department at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Australia.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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