Rob Stein

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

In his reporting, Stein focuses on the intersection of science, health, politics, social trends, ethics, and federal science policy. He tracks genetics, stem cells, cancer research, the obesity epidemic, and other science, medical, and health policy news.

Before NPR, Stein served as The Washington Post's science editor and national health reporter for 16 years, editing and then covering stories nationally and internationally.

Earlier in his career, Stein spent about four years at NPR's science desk. Before that, he served as a science reporter for United Press International in Boston and the science editor of the international wire service in Washington.

Stein is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in 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.

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1:58am

Wed October 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 2:39 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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3:15pm

Mon September 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

Could Detectives Use Microbes To Solve Murders?

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 12:30 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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12:14pm

Thu September 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Big Measles Outbreaks Worry Federal Health Officials

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 1:06 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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3:24pm

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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4:19pm

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Microbe Transplants Treat Some Diseases That Drugs Can't Fix

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 4:20 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 — 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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2:28am

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 12:58 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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1:53pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

How A Change In Gut Microbes Can Affect Weight

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 12:56 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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12:05pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

Kids' Use Of Electronic Cigarettes Doubles

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 7:24 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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12:30pm

Wed August 28, 2013
Shots - Health News

Diverse Gut Microbes, A Trim Waistline And Health Go Together

Originally published on Wed August 28, 2013 5:39 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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2:03pm

Mon August 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 6:57 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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2:31am

Mon July 22, 2013
Shots - Health News

Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 4:07 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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2:03pm

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 8:06 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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3:52pm

Wed July 3, 2013
Shots - Health News

Scientists Grow A Simple, Human Liver In A Petri Dish

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 8:48 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 — before the technique reaches clinics.

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3:45am

Mon June 24, 2013
Shots - Health News

Proposed Changes In Organ Donation Stir Debate

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 10:55 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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2:08pm

Tue June 18, 2013
Shots - Health News

FDA Backs Off On Regulation Of Fecal Transplants

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 9:34 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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