John B. West obtained his medical degree in Adelaide, Australia and then moved to London where he obtained a PhD. His early research was using the short-lived isotope oxygen-15 to study the topographical inequality of blood flow in the lung caused by gravity. He also studied the effects of gravity on regional differences of ventilation, gas exchange and alveolar size.
West joined the new Medical School at the University of California San Diego in 1969 and continues to be an active faculty member. His main research interests include bioengineering aspects of the lung including stress failure of pulmonary capillaries. He has worked extensively at high altitude and in 1981 led the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest during which the first physiological measurements on the summit were obtained. He has also had an extensive program with NASA studying the effects of weightlessness on pulmonary function. He is a dedicated teacher and his books and YouTube lectures are used extensively by students throughout the world.
West has received many honors including membership of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and foreign membership of the Russian Academy of Sciences.