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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Shots - Health News
9:17 am
Tue February 4, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 5:12 am

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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Shots - Health News
2:07 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Adult Obesity May Have Origins Way Back In Kindergarten

Playing outside can help kids — and their parents — maintain a healthy weight.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 12:20 pm

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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Shots - Health News
11:37 am
Wed November 6, 2013

Babies' Immune Systems May Stand Down To Let Good Microbes Grow

He's not just getting a cold. He's building his microbiome.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 12:27 pm

Here's possible solace for parents who are up at night with a baby who gets sick all the time: There appears to be a good reason why infant immune systems don't fight off germs.

A newborn's immune system is deliberately not doing battle with every germ that comes along so that "good" microbes have a chance to settle in, researchers say. That explanation is at odds with the widely held belief that those new immune systems are just too weak to do the job.

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Shots - Health News
9:20 am
Mon November 4, 2013

Exploring The Invisible Universe That Lives On Us — And In Us

Benjamin Arthur for NPR

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 12:28 pm

The next time you look in a mirror, think about this: In many ways you're more microbe than human. There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells.

Scientists increasingly think that these microorganisms have a huge influence on our health. Without them, our bodies don't seem to do as well. We don't seem to be as healthy and might actually get sick more often.

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Shots - Health News
11:59 pm
Thu October 24, 2013

FDA Seeks To Tighten Controls On Hydrocodone Painkillers

Hydrocodone, sold as Vicodin and other brand names, may face tighter restrictions on prescribing and use.
Toby Talbot AP

Originally published on Thu October 24, 2013 3:50 pm

The Food and Drug Administration Thursday announced that it wants the federal government to impose tough new restrictions on some of the most widely used prescription painkillers.

The FDA said it planned to recommend that Vicodin and other prescription painkillers containing the powerful opioid hydrocodone be reclassified from a "Schedule III" drug to a "Schedule II" drug, which would impose new restrictions on how they are prescribed and used.

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Shots - Health News
10:24 am
Thu September 12, 2013

Big Measles Outbreaks Worry Federal Health Officials

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

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 11:06 am

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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Shots - Health News
12:43 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

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

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 1:24 pm

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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Shots - Health News
2:16 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Microbe Transplants Treat Some Diseases That Drugs Can't Fix

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

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 2:20 pm

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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Shots - Health News
10:43 am
Thu September 5, 2013

Kids' Use Of Electronic Cigarettes Doubles

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

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 5:24 am

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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Shots - Health News
11:36 am
Wed August 28, 2013

Diverse Gut Microbes, A Trim Waistline And Health Go Together

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

Originally published on Wed August 28, 2013 3:39 pm

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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Shots - Health News
1:29 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences

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

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 4:57 am

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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Shots - Health News
10:03 pm
Wed July 3, 2013

Scientists Grow A Simple, Human Liver In A Petri Dish

"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

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 6:48 am

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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Shots - Health News
8:19 pm
Wed May 29, 2013

Disinfect All ICU Patients To Reduce 'Superbug' Infections

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

Originally published on Thu May 30, 2013 1:41 pm

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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Shots - Health News
11:47 am
Wed May 15, 2013

Scientists clone human embryos to make stem cells

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

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 8:57 am

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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Shots - Health News
4:45 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 7:38 am

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 — 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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