Wright, Sir Almroth Edward (1861–1947), bacteriologist, was born at Middleton Tyas, near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, second of five sons of the Rev. Charles Wright (qv), an Irish clergyman, and his Swedish wife Eva Almroth. His uncle, Percival Wright, was professor of botany at TCD. His grandfather Nils Almroth was director of the Swedish royal mint and professor of chemistry at the Royal Military School at Marieburg near Stockholm, and was the author of several books on chemistry.
After serving as chaplain to English congregations in Boulogne and Dresden, Charles Wright was appointed to St Mary's church, Belfast, in 1874. Almroth became a student at the Belfast Academical Institution. He subsequently entered TCD, where he studied languages and medicine simultaneously. He graduated BA with first-class honours (1882) and he was also awarded a gold medal. After graduating in medicine (1883) he undertook physiological research in Leipzig, Cambridge, Sydney, and London. During research on coagulation mechanisms he discovered that calcium was essential for the clotting process. This had considerable practical importance subsequently, as it allowed blood banks and laboratories to store blood simply by the addition of substances that remove calcium. In 1892 he was appointed to the chair of pathology in the Army Medical School which was based at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley. His development of an effective anti-typhoid vaccine led to the wide use of the vaccine and saved the lives of thousands of soldiers during the Great War. Wright published the results of his research on anti-typhoid vaccination in a book, A short treatise on anti-typhoid inoculation (1904). Wright was knighted in 1906. He was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by TCD in the same year.
Wright was appointed (1902) bacteriologist and pathologist to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, west London. At St Mary's, he began a detailed study of the phenomena of phagocytosis. He made fundamental discoveries of the nature of phagocytosis and this started him on a long programme of research on immunity and on techniques to stimulate immunity to combat disease. Wright made a significant contribution to the treatment of war wounds at the military hospital in Boulogne during the first world war by his insistence that wounds should be cleaned and excised as soon as possible. Wright also introduced several new techniques in his laboratory and he has been recognised as the pioneer of micro-methods in bacteriology. He campaigned vigorously for the establishment of a central funding agency for medical research. This led to the setting up (1913) of the Medical Research Committee (later Medical Research Council). At St Mary's, Wright attracted several very talented researchers to his team, the most famous being Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin in 1929, and John Freeman, who was to explore the possibilities of immunising victims of hay fever and other allergic diseases. Ironically, the development of antibiotics superseded Wright's approach of attempting to stimulate the body's immune system to fight infection. However, vaccine therapy has been explored again in recent times in certain infections and in cancer research. Wright's exertions led to the foundation of the new Institute of Pathology and Research at St Mary's (1933). In 1930 he was elected to honorary fellowship at TCD, one of the first two recipients of the honour. His works include Pathology and treatment of war wounds (1942), Researches in clinical physiology (1943), and Studies on immunisation (1943).
Bernard Shaw (qv) was interested in Wright's work and he visited him often in the evenings at his laboratory in St Mary's. Shaw portrayed Wright as ‘Sir Colenso Ridgeon’ in his play The doctor's dilemma. Wright cultivated his interest in languages throughout his life. He taught himself Russian when over 70 in order to be able to read it, and when he was nearly 80 he began the study of the Eskimo language. He wrote two books on philosophical subjects. He formed strong opinions on different contemporary issues and sometimes these could be wrong. For instance, he opposed women's suffrage on the basis that women lacked judgement!
At the age of 85 Wright resigned from the institute at St Mary's Hospital (1946) and he was succeeded by Alexander Fleming, as director. He died on 30 April 1947 at his home in Farnham.
Wright married (1889) Jane Georgina, a Cambridge graduate, daughter of Robert Mackay Wilson, JP, of Coolcarrigan, Co. Kildare. They had two sons and a daughter. Wright's papers are in the Wellcome Institute Library (ref. GC/70), London, and the archives of St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. A portrait by Sir Gerald Kelly, RA, and bust by Donald Gilbert (c.1947) are in the faculty of medicine, St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.