Recorded on 03/18/2021

The Biotech Revolution with Walter Isaacson

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Recorded March 18, 2021.

Walter Isaacson is world-renowned for biographies that give an unparalleled, in-depth look into the lives and minds of his subjects – from creative geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci to innovators like Steve Jobs. In his latest book, The Code Breaker, Walter delves into the mind of American biochemist and Nobel Prize Winner Jennifer Doudna, who is considered one of the primary inventors of the gene-editing system that powered the science behind several COVID-19 vaccines – CRISPR. This game-changing bio-technology – one of the most important scientific achievements of our time – has already been used to cure patients of sickle cell anemia in the U.S.

Moderated by award-winning broadcast and special events creator, producer and Cresset advisory board member Nanci Weaver, Walter Isaacson delves into how Jennifer Doudna defied the odds and beat out the competition to help create a technology that will undoubtedly change the course of the human race. He discusses how Doudna’s discovery works, how it is currently being used, and the many moral and ethical questions that “rewriting the code of life” raises.

Doudna was a pioneer in identifying the structure of RNA – an innovation that led to the first two approved COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. Hear how CRISPR has allowed new forms of COVID-19 testing and treatments and how these two first-of-their kind mRNA vaccines can be easily adapted to fight almost any new virus or variant that comes along. As Isaacson reflects on Doudna’s groundbreaking achievements, you’ll also hear his resounding lessons about leadership and innovation through the lens of the many remarkable figures whose lives he has chronicled.

About Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is the Leonard Lauder Professor of American History and Values at Tulane. He is the past CEO of the Aspen Institute, where he is now a Distinguished Fellow, and has been the chairman of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. Isaacson’s most recent biography, Leonardo da Vinci (2017), offers new discoveries about Leonardo’s life and work, weaving a narrative that connects his art to his science. He is also the author of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (2014), Steve Jobs (2011), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986).

He is a host of the show “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and CNN, a contributor to CNBC, and host of the podcast “Trailblazers, from Dell Technologies.”

Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952, in New Orleans. He is a graduate of Harvard College and of Pembroke College of Oxford University. He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor, and editor of digital media before becoming the magazine’s 14th editor in 1996. He became chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.

He is chair emeritus of Teach for America. From 2005-2007 he was the vice-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which oversaw the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States, a position he held from 2009 to 2012. He had been a member of the New Orleans City Planning Commission.

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of the Arts, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a fellow of Lowell House at Harvard and of Pembroke College at Oxford. He serves on the board of United Airlines, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Society of American Historians, New Schools for New Orleans, the U.S. Defense Department Innovation Board, and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. He is an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg, a financial services firm based in New York City.


Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson

Bestselling Author, Leonard Lauder Professor of American History at Tulane and former CEO of the Aspen Institute

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