Born in Belfast, Ireland, Wright joined the faculty of the medical school in 1967, and was tapped to chair the physiology department in 1987.
His research focuses on the structure, function and genetics of transport proteins, which act as gatekeepers for the body by carrying essential molecules in and out of cells. In 2003, his research team identified a new protein that senses changes in glucose, the blood sugar that fuels body function. The UCLA discovery could lead to the development of new drugs to control diabetes and obesity.
In his 38-year tenure at UCLA, Wright has mentored more than 40 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. During his career, he received the Senator Jacob K. Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health from 1985 to 1992, and was named the Walter B. Cannon Distinguished Lecturer by the American Physiological Society in 1989, the G.W. Harris Lecturer by the British Physiological Society in 1990 and a Fellow of the Biophysical Society in 2005.
He has served on the editorial boards for several physiology journals, consults for the National Institutes of Health, and is a scientific advisor to the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Medical Foundation in Los Angeles.
Wright earned his doctorate degrees in physiology from London University and Sheffield University in England, and conducted his research fellowship at Harvard University in Boston. He met his wife, psychologist Brenda Keys, while attending high school in Coventry, England. He grew up in Magheramore, Ireland, and attended Larne Grammar School in Ulster.