David W. Wright, Ph.D.

Dean of Graduate Education and Research
Stevenson Chair of Chemistry
Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry Vanderbilt University
7330 Stevenson Center, Station B 351822
(615) 322-2636

Tropical infectious diseases and diagnostics

David Wright, Stevenson Professor of Chemistry, and inaugural dean of sciences, is a leading scholar of neglected tropical infectious diseases and an innovator in the field of diagnostics. He is the author or co-author of more than 90 peer-reviewed articles and is known for innovative interdisciplinary research spanning chemistry, physics, parasitology, virology and biomedical engineering.

For the past decade, Wright and his research group have been attempting to unravel the mechanism of heme detoxification within the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria. More recent efforts have focused on the challenges of innovation in low-resource diagnostics. Wright has received numerous grants in support of his research from a wide variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Wright received his B.A. in classics and his B.S. in chemistry from Tulane University in 1988 and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. He joined the Department of Chemistry at Vanderbilt as an assistant professor in 2001 and was named chair of the department in 2014. He is an active participant in a number of Vanderbilt’s trans-institutional initiatives, including the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, the Vanderbilt Institute for Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology. In 2011, Wright was named a Kavli Fellow at the Frontiers of Science in cooperation with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2015, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research Information

Our research employs inorganic chemistry, nanotechnology, and material science to solve real world problems.  Students in the Wright group receive broad training in synthesis, physical methods, assay development, and biological systems. Our current interests lie in three areas:

  1. Re-imagining diagnostic tests for low resource environments
  2. Heme homeostasis in the malaria parasite, plasmodium falciparum
  3. Development of bioinspired routes for the synthesis of functional materials and devices

Low Resource Diagnostics

Lateral flow assays are one of the most common, simple and rapid formats for diagnostic tests. Unfortunately, many of them are simple not sensitive or specific enough to diagnose infections in the early stages when treatment is most effective. Our research group is asking the question: What are the approaches that could be used to make such tests 100-10,000 times more sensitive?

  • Integration of effective sample concentration strategies to increase the delivery of biomarker target to the test.
  • Development and characterization of improved molecular recognition elements for increased test specificity.
  • Novel functionalized materials and strategies to control, direct, and optimize the fluid flow on the test.
  • New amplification strategies for improved sensitivity.

Heme Homeostasis in Malaria

Over 40% of the world’s population is at risk from malaria. During an infection, the malaria parasite consumes vast quantities of the human host’s hemoglobin, releasing toxic free heme. We are interested in understanding how the parasite detoxifies this heme burden, discovering news probes to identify potential drug mechanisms and targets, and developing new tools to understand drug mode of actions. Projects include:

  • High throughput assay development, screening, and probe development.
  • Molecular tools to investigate the fate of heme load in parasites under drug stress and understand drug mechanism of action.
  • Mass spectrometry tools to investigate metabolomics wide changes in parasite biochemistry under drug treatment.

Biomolecular Materials

Biomineralization results in an expansive array of complex materials ranging from laminate composites and ceramics such as bones, teeth, and shells to magnetic materials such as the forms of magnetite found in magnetobacteria. But nowhere in Nature is the complex dance of metal ion homesostasis, hierarchical materials, and form and function as instructive to the material science as in the glass shell of the diatoms and sponges. We seek to understand and harness Nature’s own processes to design technologically important materials and devices.

  • Development of high-throughput screens to identify small molecule modulators of diatom shell geometry.
  • Enzyme catalyzed formation of metal oxides.
  • Bio-lithography approaches to the creation of three dimensional nanoscale structures.

Publications on PubMed.gov