Pioneer in Active Sodium Glucose Transporter Research to Receive Smith Award

Ernest M. Wright

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Acclaimed investigator Ernest M. Wright, PhD, DSc, will receive the Homer W. Smith Award and deliver an address during Kidney Week. Dr. Wright will speak on “Renal Glucose Transport from Man to Molecule.”

Dr. Wright is professor of physiology and Mellinkoff Professor in Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The Smith Award recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to understanding how kidneys function in normal and diseased states, and Dr. Wright has been addressing these issues since before joining the faculty of the department of physiology at UCLA in 1967.

As a student, Dr. Wright was fascinated by epithelial physiology and for his doctorate he studied the mechanism of active glucose transport across the intestine. He became interested in understanding active sodium glucose transporters (SGLTs) from the atomic level to their human physiology. He was the first to identify SGLT proteins, and his research team cloned the intestinal and renal transporter, SGLT1 and SGLT2. This discovery led to studies in which they identified mutations in the SGLT1 gene that cause glucose-galactose malabsorption. Dr. Wright has used biophysical and biochemical techniques to elucidate the atomic structure of an SGLT and the mechanisms of sodium glucose transport.

His recent interest is in how new diabetic drugs interact with SGLTs in the kidney and intestine. Working with his research partner, UCLA molecular and medical pharmacologist Jorge Barrio, PhD, Dr. Wright has used positron emission tomography to image SGLT activity throughout the body and to explore their functions in humans. The two are currently studying SGLT activity in human subjects and patients to parse out their role in health and disease.

Dr. Wright served as chair of the department of physiology at UCLA from 1987 to 2000. He has also been a visiting professor at the Center for Advanced Studies at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico, at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt, and at Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London.

He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and reviews. He has trained some 45 students and fellows, many of whom now hold senior academic positions around the world. He is a fellow of the British Royal Society and a member of the German Academy of Sciences. His research has been supported continuously for 35 years by the National Institutes of Health.

Born in Northern Ireland, Dr. Wright received his doctorate in physiology from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. He originally came to the United States for a fellowship in the biophysics laboratory at Harvard University.

Homer W. Smith

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Homer W. Smith was chairman of physiology at the University of Virginia before moving in 1928 to New York University (NYU). As director of the Physiology Laboratories at NYU, he developed and refined the concepts of glomerular filtration and tubular absorption and secretion of solutes.

The clarity of Dr. Smith’s logic and the skill with which he explained his ideas transformed them into vivid and powerful concepts that are the cornerstones of our present understanding of normal and abnormal renal function. He attracted the best and brightest to the field, to NYU, and to the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, where he spent many summers studying renal physiology in fish.

The Homer W. Smith award recognizes individuals who contribute to our basic understanding of how the kidneys function in health and disease.


October-November 2012 (Vol 4, Number 10 & 11)