Rob Stein

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.

An award-winning science journalist with more than 25 years of experience, Stein mostly covers health and medicine. He tends to focus on stories that illustrate the intersection of science, health, politics, social trends, ethics, and federal science policy. He tracks genetics, stem cells, cancer research, women's health issues and other science, medical, and health policy news.

Before NPR, Stein worked at The Washington Post for 16 years, first as the newspaper's science editor and then as a national health reporter. Earlier in his career, Stein spent about four years as an editor at NPR's science desk. Before that, he was a science reporter for United Press International (UPI) in Boston and the science editor of the international wire service in Washington.

Stein is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He completed a journalism fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health, a program in science and religion at the University of Cambridge, and a summer science writer's workshop at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Stein's work has been honored by many organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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1:14pm

Tue May 12, 2015
Shots - Health News

Seasons May Tweak Genes That Trigger Some Chronic Diseases

Originally published on Thu May 14, 2015 3:26 pm

The seasons appear to influence when certain genes are active, with those associated with inflammation being more active in the winter, according to new research released Tuesday.

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4:59pm

Thu May 7, 2015
Shots - Health News

DNA 'Printing' A Big Boon To Research, But Some Raise Concerns

Originally published on Thu May 7, 2015 7:21 pm

Cambrian Genomics says that what it calls a DNA printer is essentially a DNA sorter — it quickly spots and collects the desired, tailored stretch of DNA.
Courtesy of Cambrian Genomics

Here's something that might sound strange: There are companies now that print and sell DNA.

This trend — which uses the term "print" in the sense of making a bunch of copies speedily — is making particular stretches of DNA much cheaper and easier to obtain than ever before. That excites many scientists who are keen to use these tailored strings of genetic instructions to do all sorts of things, ranging from finding new medical treatments to genetically engineering better crops.

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3:10pm

Mon April 27, 2015
Shots - Health News

Feds Say It's Time To Cut Back On Fluoride In Drinking Water

Originally published on Sun May 3, 2015 8:56 pm

iStockphoto

Federal health officials Monday changed the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time since 1962, cutting by almost half the maximum amount of fluoride that should be added to drinking supplies.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommended 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water instead of the long-standing range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams.

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9:45am

Thu April 23, 2015
Shots - Health News

Critics Lash Out At Chinese Scientists Who Edited DNA In Human Embryos

Originally published on Fri April 24, 2015 12:34 pm

iStockphoto

For the first time, scientists have edited DNA in human embryos, a highly controversial step long considered off limits.

Junjiu Huang and his colleagues at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, performed a series of experiments involving 86 human embryos to see if they could make changes in a gene known as HBB, which causes the sometimes fatal blood disorder beta-thalassemia.

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4:08pm

Wed April 22, 2015
Shots - Health News

Why Do Mosquitoes Like To Bite You Best? It's In Your Genes

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 12:19 pm

Mmm. Smells just like your identical twin.
iStockphoto

A study that asked a few dozen pairs of twins to brave a swarm of hungry mosquitoes has revealed another clue to the cluster of reasons the insects are more attracted to some people than others: Genes matter.

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4:42pm

Tue April 21, 2015
Shots - Health News

Screening Tests For Breast Cancer Genes Just Got Cheaper

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 3:29 pm

iStockphoto

A new California company announced Monday it is offering a much cheaper and easier way for women to get tested for genetic mutations that increase their risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Color Genomics of Burlingame, Calif., has begun selling a $249 test that it says can accurately analyze a saliva sample for mutations in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as check for 17 other genetic variants that have been associated with a somewhat increased risk for cancer of the breast or ovaries.

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3:46am

Mon April 20, 2015
Shots - Health News

FDA Ponders Putting Homeopathy To A Tougher Test

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 11:08 am

Katherine Streeter for NPR

It's another busy morning at Dr. Anthony Aurigemma's homeopathy practice in Bethesda, Md.

Wendy Resnick, 58, is here because she's suffering from a nasty bout of laryngitis. "I don't feel great," she says. "I don't feel myself."

Resnick, who lives in Millersville, Md., has been seeing Aurigemma for years for a variety of health problems, including ankle and knee injuries and back problems. "I don't know what I would do without him," she says. "The traditional treatments just weren't helping me at all."

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6:24pm

Thu April 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

Use Of E-Cigarettes Triples Among U.S. Teens

Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 8:13 pm

Nicotine exposure at a young age "may cause lasting harm to brain development," warns Dr. Tom Frieden, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
iStockphoto

A national survey confirms earlier indications that e-cigarettes are now more popular among teenage students than traditional cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The findings prompted strong warnings from Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the effects of any form of nicotine on young people.

"We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age," Frieden said.

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5:04pm

Wed April 15, 2015
Shots - Health News

Why Knuckles Crack

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 9:39 pm

NPR intern Poncie Rutsch takes a crack at making a big sound.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Scientists think they may have solved an old question about the cracking of knuckles: Why does it make that sound?

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4:06pm

Mon April 6, 2015
Shots - Health News

Will A Transplanted Hand Feel Like His Own? Surgery Raises Questions

Originally published on Mon April 6, 2015 7:48 pm

Kevin Lopez at home in Greenbelt, Md.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR

When Kevin Lopez opens the door to his Greenbelt, Md., apartment to greet a visitor he's never before met, he initially conceals his right hand.

"I'm self-conscious, definitely, about my right hand," he says. But eventually Lopez relaxes.

"I was born like this," he says. "As you can see, I don't have any fingers." It bothers the 20-year-old enough that he has volunteered to do something drastic: to have his right hand removed and replaced with another person's hand via surgery.

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3:53am

Wed April 1, 2015
Shots - Health News

Tobacco Firm Seeks Softer Warning For Cigarette Alternative

Originally published on Thu April 2, 2015 5:50 pm

Will this maker of snus, an alternative to cigarettes, be allowed to claim it is less harmful?
Swedish Match

The Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to allow a tobacco company to do something it's never done before — claim that one of its products is less risky than cigarettes.

The company, Swedish Match of Stockholm, has applied to the FDA to designate its General brand of snus (rhymes with "loose") as safer than other versions of tobacco.

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5:12pm

Fri March 20, 2015
Shots - Health News

Scientists Urge Temporary Moratorium On Human Genome Edits

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 7:58 pm

Microbiologist Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley. She's co-inventor of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology — a tool that's recently made the snipping and splicing of genes much easier.
Cailey Cotner UC Berkeley

A new technology called CRISPR could allow scientists to alter the human genetic code for generations. That's causing some leading biologists and bioethicists to sound an alarm.

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6:36pm

Tue March 17, 2015
Goats and Soda

Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds

Originally published on Wed March 18, 2015 12:23 pm

Brazilian mothers participate in a demonstration in 2011 for the right to breastfeed in public, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Eduardo Anizelli/STF LatinContent/Getty Images

Babies who are breast-fed may be more likely to be successful in life, a provocative study published Tuesday suggests.

The study followed more than 3,000 babies into adulthood in Brazil. The researchers found those who were breast-fed scored slightly higher in intelligence tests in their 30s, stayed in school longer and earned more money than those who were given formula.

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3:43am

Thu March 5, 2015
Shots - Health News

Fertility Clinic Courts Controversy With Treatment That Recharges Eggs

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 4:57 pm

Along with sperm, the in vitro procedure adds fresh mitochondria extracted from less mature cells in the same woman's ovaries. The hope is to revitalize older eggs with these extra "batteries." But the FDA still wants proof that the technique works and is safe.
Chris Nickels for NPR

Melissa and her husband started trying to have a baby right after they got married. But nothing was happening. So they went to a fertility clinic and tried round after round of everything the doctors had to offer. Nothing worked.

"They basically told me, 'You know, you have no chance of getting pregnant,' " says Melissa, who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy.

But Melissa, 30, who lives in Ontario, Canada, didn't give up. She switched clinics and kept trying. She got pregnant once, but that ended in a miscarriage.

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5:03pm

Tue March 3, 2015
Shots - Health News

FDA Mandates Tougher Warnings On Testosterone

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 5:03 pm

AndroGel, a testosterone replacement made by AbbVie, is seen at a pharmacy in Princeton, Ill.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it is requiring drugmakers to warn patients that testosterone products may increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Testosterone replacements are approved to treat men with low testosterone related to medical problems, such as genetic deficiencies, chemotherapy or damaged testicles.

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5:37pm

Wed February 25, 2015
Shots - Health News

Infections With Dangerous Gut Microbe Still On The Rise

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 6:34 pm

An overgrowth of Clostridium difficile bacteria can inflame the colon with a life-threatening infection.
Dr. David Phillips Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited

A potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal infection is more common than previously estimated, federal health officials reported Wednesday.

The infection, caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium difficile, or C-diff, causes nearly 500,000 illnesses in the United States each year and kills about 29,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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4:56pm

Mon February 23, 2015
The Salt

Feeding Babies Foods With Peanuts Appears To Prevent Allergies

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 2:28 pm

Babies at high risk for becoming allergic to peanuts are much less likely to develop the allergy if they are regularly fed foods containing the legumes starting in their first year of life.

That's according to a big new study released Monday involving hundreds of British babies. The researchers found that those who consumed the equivalent of about 4 heaping teaspoons of peanut butter each week, starting when they were between 4 and 11 months old, were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by their fifth birthday.

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12:41am

Mon February 23, 2015
Shots - Health News

Kids, Allergies And A Possible Downside To Squeaky Clean Dishes

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 11:21 am

Vidhya Nagarajan for NPR

Could using a dishwashing machine increase the chances your child will develop allergies? That's what some provocative new research suggests — but don't tear out your machine just yet.

The study involved 1,029 Swedish children (ages 7 or 8) and found that those whose parents said they mostly wash the family's dishes by hand were significantly less likely to develop eczema, and somewhat less likely to develop allergic asthma and hay fever.

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4:09pm

Mon February 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

Female Libido Pill Fires Up Debate About Women And Sex

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 8:35 am

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

For 15 years, Carla Price and her husband's sex life was great. But then things began to change.

"Before, I would want to have sex," says Price, who is 50 and lives in central Missouri. "But over the years my sexual desire has just dwindled to nothing."

Price has no idea why. She's healthy. She's not really stressed out about anything. And she's still totally crazy about her husband.

"It's not that our relationship got boring," Price says. "Because it's actually the opposite — we became closer as we got older together."

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3:33am

Mon February 9, 2015
Shots - Health News

Harnessing The Immune System To Fight Cancer

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 4:35 pm

Marder says immunotherapy has side effects but is less tiring than chemotherapy.
Claire Eggers/NPR

When Barbara Marder was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago, she had part of her right lung removed, went through a round of chemotherapy and tried to move on with her life.

"I had hoped that everything was fine — that I would not create difficulty for my children, that I would get to see my grandchildren grow up," says Marder, 73, of Arnold, Md.

But a routine scan a year later found bad news: The cancer was back — this time in her other lung.

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4:37pm

Tue February 3, 2015
Humans

U.K. Lawmakers Allow Scientists To Attempt 'DNA Transplants'

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:02 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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5:08pm

Wed January 21, 2015
Shots - Health News

E-Cigarettes Can Churn Out High Levels Of Formaldehyde

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 4:55 pm

Vapor from an e-cigarette obscures the user's face in a London coffee bar.
Dan Kitwood Getty Images

Vapor produced by electronic cigarettes can contain a surprisingly high concentration of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — researchers reported Wednesday.

The findings, described in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, intensify concern about the safety of electronic cigarettes, which have become increasingly popular.

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1:42pm

Thu January 15, 2015
Shots - Health News

This Year's Flu Vaccine Is Pretty Wimpy, But Can Still Help

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 7:21 pm

Bruno Mbango Enyaka gets his flu shot at a community health center in Portland, Maine, on Jan. 7.
Gabe Souza Press Herald via Getty Images

As expected, this year's flu vaccine looks like it's pretty much of a dud.

The vaccine only appears to cut the chances that someone will end up sick with the flu by 23 percent, according to the first estimate of the vaccine's effectiveness by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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3:17am

Thu January 8, 2015
Shots - Health News

Specialists Split Over HPV Test's Role In Cancer Screening

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 12:49 pm

The human papilloma virus causes most — but not all — cases of cancer of the cervix.
James Cavallini ScienceSource

Two medical groups say doctors could replace the Pap smear with a different test to screen many women for cervical cancer.

But that recommendation, included in an "interim guidance" released Thursday, is highly controversial; other experts call it premature.

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3:28am

Wed December 31, 2014
Shots - Health News

Potent Powdered Caffeine Raises Safety Worries

Originally published on Fri January 2, 2015 7:32 am

One teaspoon of pure caffeine powder delivers about the same jolt as 25 cups of coffee.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest

Wade Sweatt thought he had found a healthier way to get himself going in the morning. Instead of getting his daily jolt of caffeine from a cup of coffee or a Coke, Sweatt decided last summer to try mixing some powdered caffeine he'd bought via the Internet with some water or milk.

"Wade was very health-conscious, a very healthy person," says Sweatt's father, James. "His idea was, this was healthier than getting all the sugar and the sodium and ... artificial sweeteners from drinking Coca-Colas and diet Cokes."

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4:26pm

Fri December 26, 2014
Shots - Health News

One More Reason To Reach For A Paper Book Before Bed

Originally published on Mon December 29, 2014 8:18 am

Sleepy in the day and wide awake at night? Give the screen a rest.
Guido Mieth Getty Images/Flickr RM

E-readers may make it particularly hard to get a good night's sleep, according to research out this week.

A study that followed every nightly twitch, turn and snore of 12 volunteers for a couple weeks found that those who read from an iPad before hitting the sack had a harder time falling asleep, spent less time in a crucial phase of sleep, and were less alert the next day.

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5:48pm

Wed December 24, 2014
The Two-Way

Mishandling Of Ebola Sample May Have Exposed CDC Technician To Virus

Originally published on Fri December 26, 2014 1:54 pm

Stringy particles of Ebola virus (blue) bud from a chronically infected cell (yellow-green) in this colorized, scanning electron micrograph.
NIAID Science Source

Federal health officials are investigating an incident involving the mishandling of the Ebola virus at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's headquarters in Atlanta.

The incident involved the material used in an experiment with the Ebola virus, the CDC said in a statement released late Wednesday. The material was accidentally moved from a high-security lab to a low-security lab on Monday. As a result, there's a possibility that one lab technician may have been exposed to the virus. That person will be monitored for 21 days for any symptoms.

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4:21pm

Tue December 23, 2014
Around the Nation

FDA Allows Gay Men To Donate Blood

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 6:26 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

3:29am

Tue December 23, 2014
Shots - Health News

Baby Thrives Once 3-D-Printed Windpipe Helps Him Breathe

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 4:20 pm

Jake and Natalie Peterson and their son Garrett in October 2014.
Courtesy of Brittany Jacox

Garrett Peterson was born in 2012 with a defective windpipe. It would periodically just collapse, because the cartilage was so soft, and he'd stop breathing. This would happen every day — sometimes multiple times a day.

"It was really awful to have to watch him go through his episodes," says his father, Jake Peterson of Layton, Utah. "He'd be fine and then all of a sudden start turning blue. It was just like watching your child suffocate over and over again."

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12:07pm

Thu December 4, 2014
Shots - Health News

CDC Warns That The Flu Season May Be A Bad One

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 7:21 pm

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, got his flu shot in September.
J. David Ake AP

We may be in for a nasty flu season. That's the warning out today from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is worried because the most common strain of flu virus circulating in the United States is one called H3N2. In previous years, H3N2 strains have tended to send more people to the hospital than other strains — and cause more deaths, especially among the elderly, children and people with other health problems.

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