Learn More About Alta Charo
Biotechnology offers us vast opportunities to improve many aspects of life, from expanding our food supply, constructing smart buildings and creating sustainable products to curing diseases and helping living beings adapt to changing climates. While such possibilities evoke a sense of hope and excitement, ethical considerations around genome editing must be carefully considered, says acclaimed bioethicist, futurist and legal scholar Alta Charo. Professor Emerita of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, Charo helps organizations understand the complex legal, ethical and regulatory issues surrounding biotechnology and emerging sciences.
Lead co-chair at BioMade and co-chair of the National Academy of Medicine Committee on Emerging Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Charo has been advising multinational organizations and governments for decades, helping them establish ethical guidelines in such areas as reproductive technologies, vaccines, pharmaceutical development, public health, food engineering, sustainability and stem cell research. In March 2021, she concluded a fellowship focused on global biosecurity at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
“Human genome editing holds tremendous promise for understanding, treating or preventing many devastating genetic diseases, and for improving treatment of many other illnesses,” said Charo when commenting on a National Academy of Medicine report on genome editing. “However, genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if [the technology is] available only to some people.”
As a policy and legal advisor to the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Office of the Commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Charo has served as a bridge between groups of scientists, business leaders and politicians with divergent views, helping them find a way forward that’s responsible and beneficial. Her expertise and insights are relevant to decision makers in a variety of sectors: she helps law firms understand novel legal issues around biotechnology; brings investment advisors up to speed on companies developing emerging technologies; discusses the ethical issues of clinical trials and drug access with pharmaceutical firms; consults on the medical and environmental applications of gene therapy and genome editing; and enlightens companies on options for shifting to sustainable business models.
Charo’s passion for finding the sweet spot between creative innovation and socially responsible applications has earned her the respect of peers and organizational leaders around the world. She sits on several important advisory boards and committees and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. That stellar reputation also led to her being featured in the NOVA documentary “Human Nature.”
“I began my career with a desire to combine science with social activism,” says Charo, who considers herself a techno-optimist. “My job is to help companies understand the ripple effects of their decisions on society and point them toward responsible practices.”
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Alta Charo served on President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which wrote reports on cloning, embryo research and protection of human subjects in research trials. She is or has been a member of many boards and committees of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, where she focused on topics ranging from pharmaceutical development to vaccine safety and, more recently, COVID-19 vaccine allocation. At the Academies, she co-chaired the committees that developed national guidelines for both stem cell research and human genome editing. Currently she co-chairs its committee on governance frameworks for emerging science and technology innovation. She also served on the World Health Organization expert committee that developed a framework for global governance of genome editing and is now on the organizing committee for the March 2022 international genome editing summit.
In government, Charo served as a senior policy advisor to the Commissioner at the FDA, where she worked on policies governing drug safety, diagnostic testing, and genetically engineered foods and animals.
Charo has authored or contributed to more than 150 articles, book chapters and government reports on life sciences law and policy, and taught courses on biotechnology regulatory policy; pharmaceutical and cell therapy development; clinical research design and ethics; reproductive rights; medical ethics; and public health law. She holds an AB in biology from Harvard University and a law degree from Columbia University. She has been a Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, a Fulbright Lecturer in American Law at the Sorbonne in Paris and a Diplomacy Fellow at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Alta Charo is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.
Photo credit: Jeff Miller, University of Wisconsin