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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12:08pm

Wed March 12, 2014
Shots - Health News

Mix Of Gut Microbes May Play Role In Crohn's Disease

Originally published on Wed March 12, 2014 9:31 pm

In some human diseases, the wrong mix of bacteria seems to be the trouble.
Getty Images

The particular assortment of microbes in the digestive system may be an important factor in the inflammatory bowel condition known as Crohn's disease.

Research involving more than 1,500 patients found that people with Crohn's disease had less diverse populations of gut microbes.

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4:53pm

Tue March 11, 2014
Humans

Genetic Sequencing May Not Be Ready To Become Routine

Originally published on Tue March 11, 2014 6:51 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

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5:34pm

Wed February 26, 2014
Shots - Health News

Blood Test Provides More Accurate Prenatal Testing For Down Syndrome

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 11:24 am

The new test scans a mother's blood for bits of a fetus's DNA.
iStockphoto

A new blood test offers pregnant women a safe and much more accurate way to screen for Down syndrome.

A study that evaluated the test in 1,914 pregnancies found that the test, which checks DNA, produces far fewer false alarms than the current screening techniques.

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4:48pm

Wed February 26, 2014
Shots - Health News

Scientists Question Safety Of Genetically Altering Human Eggs

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 12:08 pm

Up till now, all babies have had two genetic parents. That could soon change.
KlΓΆpper & Eisenschmidt GbR iStockphoto

A panel of government advisers has expressed serious concerns about a controversial proposal to allow scientists to try to make babies using eggs that have been genetically altered to include DNA from another woman.

Members of the Food and Drug Administration panel said they were worried that not enough research has been done to know whether the experiments would be safe.

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1:26pm

Thu February 20, 2014
Shots - Health News

Flu Strikes Younger Adults Hard This Year

Originally published on Thu February 20, 2014 2:42 pm

Fredy DeLeon gets a flu shot at a Walgreens pharmacy in Concord, Calif., in January.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

This year's flu season is hitting younger and middle-aged adults unusually hard, federal health officials say.

More than 60 percent of flu patients who ended up in the hospital this year have been between the ages of 18 and 64. The proportion of young people among the hospitalized is much higher than usual, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 35 percent of flu patients who were hospitalized in the previous three years fell into that age group, the CDC says.

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2:07pm

Wed February 5, 2014
Shots - Health News

An Artificial Arm Gives One Man The Chance To Feel Again

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 8:43 pm

Dennis Aabo Sorensen tests a prosthetic arm with sensory feedback in a laboratory in Rome in March 2013.
Patrizia Tocci/Lifehand 2

Ten years ago Dennis Sorensen was setting off fireworks to celebrate New Year's Eve with his family in Denmark when something terrible happened.

"Unfortunately one of the rockets we had this evening was not good and when we light it then it just blew up and, yeah, my hand was, was not that good anymore," says Sorensen.

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3:45am

Tue February 4, 2014
Shots - Health News

Wanna Smoke? It Could Cost You A Tooth, FDA Warns Teens

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 8:12 am

Smoking can mess up your looks, according to an ad campaign aimed at keeping teens from smoking.
Courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration

When it comes to persuading teenagers not to smoke, you have to think short-term, the Food and Drug Administration says.

"While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don't believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters Monday before unveiling the agency's first-ever anti-smoking campaign.

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5:30pm

Wed January 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

Adult Obesity May Have Origins Way Back In Kindergarten

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 3:20 pm

Playing outside can help kids β€” and their parents β€” maintain a healthy weight.
iStockphoto

A lot of parents like to think their kids will simply outgrow baby fat. But the risk of becoming a severely overweight adult can actually start as early as kindergarten, research suggests.

"As parents, as a society, as clinicians, we need to think about a healthy weight really early on," says Solveig Cunningham, who led the study. But that doesn't mean putting young children on calorie-restricted diets.

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3:39am

Mon January 20, 2014
Shots - Health News

Can Probiotics Help Soothe Colicky Babies?

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 3:53 pm

You tried burping. You tried bouncing. You tried swaddling. Now what?
iStockphoto

When Melissa Shenewa and her husband imagined their first weeks with their new baby, they pictured hours of cuddling. Instead, they're enduring hours of inconsolable crying.

Their 6-week-old son, Aladdin, is a colicky baby. He cries for hours, usually in the middle of the night. They've tried everything they could think of. Nothing helps.

"Being a parent when your child is screaming in pain for hours on end and there's nothing you can do, you feel helpless," says Shenewa, 24, who lives in Houston. "You feel like you're not a good parent."

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3:07am

Mon November 18, 2013
Shots - Health News

Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 12:58 pm

Illustration by Benjamin Arthur for NPR

Could the microbes that inhabit our guts help explain that old idea of "gut feelings?" There's growing evidence that gut bacteria really might influence our minds.

"I'm always by profession a skeptic," says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains."

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2:58am

Wed October 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 3:39 pm

This micrograph shows a single mitochondrion (yellow), one of many little energy factories inside a cell.
Keith R. Porter Science Source

The federal government is considering whether to allow scientists to take a controversial step: make changes in some of the genetic material in a woman's egg that would be passed down through generations.

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5:01pm

Mon September 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

Could Detectives Use Microbes To Solve Murders?

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 1:30 pm

Knight (left) and Bucheli take soil samples from beneath one of the decomposing bodies.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

In the woods outside Huntsville, Texas, scientists are trying to determine whether they can use the microbes that live on the human body as microscopic witnesses that could help catch criminals.

It's a strange scene at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility. At first, it's easy to miss the human bodies scattered among the tall pines, wild grass and weeds.

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1:14pm

Thu September 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Big Measles Outbreaks Worry Federal Health Officials

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 2:06 pm

The Eagle Mountain Church in Newark, Texas, was linked to at least 21 cases of measles this year, mostly in children.
LM Otero AP

Federal health officials are worried about an unusually high number of measles cases occurring in the United States this year.

There have been at least eight outbreaks so far this year involving 159 cases, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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4:24pm

Tue September 10, 2013
Shots - Health News

FDA Ratchets Down On Prescribing Of OxyContin And Other Opioids

Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled in the U.S. since 1990. Opioid painkillers like OxyContin are the cause of three-quarters of those deaths.
Toby Talbot Associated Press

The Food and Drug Administration today took another step toward restricting use of OxyContin and other powerful and often-abused prescription pain medications.

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4:57pm

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Microbe Transplants Treat Some Diseases That Drugs Can't Fix

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:20 pm

Billie Iverson, 86, of Cranston, R.I., recently underwent a transplant of intestinal microbes that likely saved her life.
Ryan T. Conaty for NPR

Billie Iverson may be getting up there, but for an 86-year-old, she's still plenty active.

"I take trips, and I go do my own shopping, and I take myself to the doctor," Iverson says. "I do everything. I don't let anything stop me."

But one day, she got hit with something she'd never experienced β€” the worst case of the runs ever.

For days at a time, off and on for weeks, the problem kept coming back. Iverson eventually got so weak, she ended up in a nursing home.

"I just thought maybe I wasn't going to make it," she says. "I thought I was going to die."

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3:28am

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 1:58 pm

We may not see them, but we need them.
iStockphoto.com

Look in the mirror and you won't see your microbiome. But it's there with you from the day you are born. Over time, those bacteria, viruses and fungi multiply until they outnumber your own cells 10 to 1.

As babies, the microbes may teach our immune systems how to fight off bad bugs that make us sick and ignore things that aren't a threat.

We get our first dose of microbes from our mothers, both in the birth canal and in breast milk. Family members tend to have similar microbiomes.

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2:53pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

How A Change In Gut Microbes Can Affect Weight

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 1:56 pm

Dreaming of slimming gut microbes?
iStockphoto.com

The evidence just keeps mounting that the microbes in our digestive systems are a factor in the obesity epidemic.

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1:23pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

Kids' Use Of Electronic Cigarettes Doubles

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 8:24 am

Clouds of nicotine-laced vapor are getting more popular with teens.
Mauro Grigollo iStockphoto.com

The percentage of middle and high school students who have tried electronic cigarettes more than doubled in a year, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The percentage of students in grades 6 through 12 who had ever used e-cigarettes increased from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Those who reported currently using the devices increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent.

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1:12pm

Wed August 28, 2013
Shots - Health News

Diverse Gut Microbes, A Trim Waistline And Health Go Together

Originally published on Wed August 28, 2013 6:39 pm

The tale of the tape may be told, in part, by the microbes inside you.
iStockphoto.com

Scientists have discovered new clues about how microbes in our digestive systems may affect health.

European researchers found that the less diverse those microbes are, the more likely people are to gain weight, become obese and develop risk factors for serious health problems.

Evidence has been mounting in recent years that bacteria and other organisms in our bodies do a lot more than just help us digest food.

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3:03pm

Mon August 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 7:57 am

Could the images common in accounts of near-death experiences be explained by a rush of electrical activity in the brain?
Odina iStockphoto.com

A burst of brain activity just after the heart stops may be the cause of so-called near-death experiences, scientists say.

The insight comes from research involving nine lab rats whose brains were analyzed as they were being euthanized. Researchers discovered what appears to be a momentary increase in electrical activity in the brain associated with consciousness.

Although the experiment relied on animals, the results could apply to humans, too, the researchers say.

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3:31am

Mon July 22, 2013
Shots - Health News

Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 5:07 pm

Not so long ago, most people thought that the only good microbe was a dead microbe.

But then scientists started to realize that even though some bugs can make us sick and even kill us, most don't.

In fact, in the past decade attitudes about the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living all over our bodies has almost completely turned around. Now scientists say that not only are those microbes often not harmful, we can't live without them.

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3:03pm

Thu July 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Gut Bacteria We Pick Up As Kids Stick With Us For Decades

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 9:06 am

Streptococcus bacteria, like this strain, can be found in our guts.
Janice Haney Carr CDC Public Health Image Library

Most of the microbes in our guts appear to remain stable for years, perhaps even most of our lives, researchers reported Thursday.

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4:52pm

Wed July 3, 2013
Shots - Health News

Scientists Grow A Simple, Human Liver In A Petri Dish

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 9:48 am

"Liver buds" grow in petri dishes. The rudimentary organs are about 5 mm wide, or half the height of a classic Lego block.
Courtesy of Takanori Takebe/Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine

Japanese scientists have cracked open a freaky new chapter in the sci-fi-meets-stem-cells era. A group in Yokohama reported it has grown a primitive liver in a petri dish using a person's skin cells.

The organ isn't complete. It's missing a few parts. And it will be years --maybe decades β€” before the technique reaches clinics.

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3:04am

Mon June 24, 2013
Shots - Health News

Proposed Changes In Organ Donation Stir Debate

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 11:55 am

Hospitals and organ banks could get more leeway in decisions about donations.
Sean Gallup Getty Images

The nation's organ transplant network will consider a controversial proposal Monday to overhaul the guidelines for an increasingly common form of organ donation.

The board of directors of the United Network for Organ Sharing will open a two-day meeting at the organization's headquarters in Richmond, Va., to consider new guidelines for donation after cardiac death.

Donation after cardiac death involves removing organs minutes after life-support has been stopped for patients who still have at least some brain activity.

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3:42pm

Tue June 18, 2013
Shots - Health News

FDA Backs Off On Regulation Of Fecal Transplants

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 10:34 am

Bad bug: The bacterium Clostridium difficile kills 14,000 people in the United States each year.
Janice Carr CDC/dapd

Federal regulators are dropping plans to tightly control a procedure that is becoming increasingly popular for treating people stricken by life-threatening infections of the digestive system.

The Food and Drug Administration says the agency will exercise enforcement discretion and no longer require doctors to get the agency's approval before using "fecal microbiota for transplantation."

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5:08pm

Wed May 29, 2013
Shots - Health News

Disinfect All ICU Patients To Reduce 'Superbug' Infections

Originally published on Thu May 30, 2013 4:41 pm

To fight antibiotic-resistant staph germs like these, a study suggests disinfecting the skin of all intensive care patients.
Janice Carr CDC

Hospitals can sharply reduce the spread of the drug-resistant bacteria in their intensive care units by decontaminating all patients rather than screening them and focusing only on those found to be infected already, researchers reported Wednesday.

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1:18pm

Wed May 22, 2013
Shots - Health News

Research Reveals Yeasty Beasts Living On Our Skin

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 11:20 am

Fungi (cyan) surround a human hair within the skin. A study in the journal Nature shows the population of fungi on human skin is more diverse that previously thought.
Alex Valm, Ph.D.

Scientists have completed an unusual survey: a census of the fungi that inhabit different places on our skin. It's part of a big scientific push to better understand the microbes that live in and on our bodies.

"This is the first study of our fungi, which are yeast and other molds that live on the human body," says Julie Segre, of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the survey.

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12:03pm

Wed May 15, 2013
Shots - Health News

Scientists Clone Human Embryos To Make Stem Cells

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 11:57 am

A scientist removes the nucleus from a human egg using a pipette. This is the first step to making personalized embryonic stem cells.
Courtesy of OHSU Photos

Scientists say they have, for the first time, cloned human embryos capable of producing embryonic stem cells.

The accomplishment is a long-sought step toward harnessing the potential power of embryonic stem cells to treat many human diseases. But the work also raises a host of ethical concerns.

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3:43am

Mon May 6, 2013
Shots - Health News

Parents' Saliva On Pacifiers Could Ward Off Baby's Allergies

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 10:33 am

Sucking may be one of the most beneficial ways to clean a baby's dirty pacifier, a study found
iStockphoto.com

That word "microbiome" β€” describing the collection of bacteria that live in and on our bodies β€” keeps popping up. This time, researchers say that children whose parents clean their pacifiers by sucking them might be less likely to develop allergic conditions because of how their parents' saliva changes their microbiomes.

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6:01pm

Wed April 24, 2013
Shots - Health News

Gut Bacteria's Belch May Play A Role In Heart Disease

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 10:38 am

More than just a tenant: Enterococcus faecalis thrives in the human intestine with a varied jumble of other bacteria that help us digest food.
National Institutes of Health

Scientists have discovered what may be an important new risk factor for heart disease. And here's the surprising twist: The troublesome substance seems to be a waste product left behind by bacteria in our guts as they help us digest lecithin β€” a substance plentiful in red meat, eggs, liver and certain other foods.

Doctors say the research further illustrates the complicated relationship we have with the microbes living inside us, and could lead to new ways to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

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