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.

There's something different about the way these babies cry. That's a realization that hit me after spending day after day with babies in Brazil who were born to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus when they were pregnant. It's not just that they cry more easily, and longer — which they do. There's also something strange — harsher and more pained — about the cries of many of these babies. The realization that they even cry differently than normal babies drove home how many mysteries...

The Zika virus has sparked international alarm largely because of fears that the pathogen is causing microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and damaged brains. But the preliminary results of a study released Friday suggest Zika can also cause other potentially grave complications for fetuses carried by women who get infected while they are pregnant. "There seems to be a whole spectrum of conditions that are related to this — not only microcephaly," says...

Every morning since I arrived in Brazil to cover the Zika outbreak, the first thing I do is douse myself with insect repellent before venturing outside. I know the chances I'll catch Zika are pretty low, and the disease tends to be relatively mild for most healthy adult males. But with all the alarm about the virus, it's hard not to start to get a little paranoid about catching Zika from a mosquito. Nevertheless, as I was wandering through Zika-infested neighborhoods to talk with women who...

It's the first thing in the morning at a crowded public health clinic in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, when a team of disease detectives from the United States and Brazil arrive. They are searching for new mothers in the hope of solving one of the world's most urgent public health mysteries: Is the Zika virus really causing microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with shrunken heads and badly damaged brains? "The preponderance of evidence points to Zika being the culprit," says Megumi Itoh, an...

A team of U.S. government disease detectives launched an eagerly anticipated research project in Brazil on Monday designed to determine whether the Zika virus is really causing a surge of serious birth defects. A 16-member team of epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began training dozens of Brazilian counterparts in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, in preparation to begin work on Tuesday. The researchers will gather data on hundreds of Brazilian women and their children. ...

When Marcella Lafayette started having really bad heartburn, she went to her doctor to see if there was anything that might help. "I was experiencing a lot of chest pain, back pain caused from heartburn," says Lafayette, 62, of Portland, Ore. Her doctor diagnosed her with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD , and prescribed a drug called a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI . The drug worked, but Lafayette soon started having other problems, such as muscle weakness and severe leg cramping....

U.S. health experts cautioned Friday that the apparent discovery of the Zika virus in saliva and urine from people in Brazil does not necessarily mean the virus can be spread by more casual contact with infected people, such as through kissing. "I think we need to be careful that don't we jump to any conclusions about transmissibility," Anthony Fauci , who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on NPR's Morning Edition . "When you find a...

Editor's note: This post was updated Feb. 3, 2016, at 12:25 pm to include a statement from the Food and Drug Administration and a comment from Mark Sauer. Would it be ethical for scientists to try to create babies that have genetic material from three different people? An influential panel of experts has concluded the answer could be yes. The 12-member panel, assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released a 164-page report Wednesday outlining a plan for...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: For the first time, the government is allowing scientists to edit the DNA inside human embryos. As NPR's health correspondent, Rob Stein, reports, that's extremely controversial. ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Scientists have recently developed powerful new techniques that let them make very precise changes in DNA. Kathy Niakan wants to use them to help of millions of women who are infertile. KATHY NIAKAN: We...

When Elizabeth Estes's dog, Ollie, started coughing last year, she didn't think he was seriously ill at first. But then the 3-year-old Jack Russell-chihuahua mix got much worse. "All of a sudden, he couldn't breathe and he was coughing. It was so brutal," says Estes, who lives in Chicago. "The dog couldn't breathe. I mean, could not breathe — just kept coughing and coughing and coughing and gasping for air." Ollie, it turned out, had caught a strain of dog flu that's relatively new to the U.S...

A human study of Zika virus vaccine could begin as early as this year, U.S. health officials told reporters Thursday. But the officials cautioned that it could be years before the vaccine is available for wide use. The news came as the Zika virus continues to spread through the Americas. Still, a large outbreak is seen as unlikely in the U.S. "There's still a lot we don't know, so we have to be very careful about making any absolute predictions," says Dr. Anthony Fauci , head of the National...

The outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil and other countries has raised concern that the pathogen could start spreading widely in the United States, as well. But federal health officials and other infectious disease specialists say so far that seems unlikely. "Based on what we know right now, we don't think that widespread transmission in the United States is likely," says Dr. Beth Bell , director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease...

People who take certain popular medicines for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux may want to proceed more cautiously, researchers reported Monday. The drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors ( PPIs ), appear to significantly elevate the chances of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study involving more than 250,000 people. An estimated 15 million Americans use PPIs, which are sold by prescription and over-the-counter under a variety of brand names, including Nexium, Prilosec...

Many people have Neanderthal genes in their DNA that predispose them to allergies, two studies published Thursday have found. "So I suppose that some of us can blame Neanderthals for our susceptibility to common allergies, like hay fever," says Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led one of the teams. Scientists once thought of Neanderthals as brutish creatures who had little in common with modern humans. But as more evidence turned...

How safe is it in the United States to be born someplace other than a hospital? The question has long been the focus of emotional debate and conflicting information. Now, Oregon scientists and health workers who deliver babies have some research evidence that sheds a bit more light. The study, which involved more than 75,000 low-risk births in the state in 2012 and 2013, found the risk of death for the baby appears to be twice as high when mothers planned to deliver at a birthing center or at...

Are hospitals doing everything they should to make sure they don't make mistakes when declaring patients brain-dead? A provocative study finds that hospital policies for determining brain death are surprisingly inconsistent and that many have failed to fully implement guidelines designed to minimize errors. "This is truly one of those matters of life and death, and we want to make sure this is done right every single time," says David Greer , a neurologist at the Yale University School of...

There's finally some good news about childhood asthma in the United States: After rising for decades, the number of children with the breathing disorder has finally stopped increasing and may have started falling, according to a government analysis. "That was a big surprise," says Lara Akinbami of the National Center for Health Statistics . "We were expecting the increase to kind of continue. But in fact we saw the opposite." The percentage of U.S. children with asthma doubled in the 1980s...

The Food and Drug Administration is relaxing a 32-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The FDA announced Monday that it was replacing a lifetime prohibition with a new policy that will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they have not had sexual contact with another man for at least one year. "Relying on sound scientific evidence, we've taken great care to ensure the revised policy continues to protect our blood supply," said Peter Marks , deputy...

Medical advisers to the Food and Drug Administration say that prescription drugs containing codeine should not be used to treat children or the majority of teens suffering from pain or a cough. In their meeting Thursday, the advisers also voted overwhelmingly against the over-the-counter sales of codeine-containing cough syrup for children. Selling such products without a prescription is currently permitted in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The votes to restrict codeine's use among...

When police investigate suspicious deaths, one of the key questions is: When did the victim die? A study published Thursday in Science may lead forensics experts and detectives to a more precise answer in the future. Researchers studying the microbes on decomposing bodies have found that the mix of bacteria and other organisms on dead bodies changes over time in a clear pattern. "It's very clocklike," says Jessica Metcalf , a senior research associate at the University of Colorado and lead...

Since 2003, strict rules have limited how long medical residents can work without a break. The rules are supposed to minimize the risk that these doctors-in-training will make mistakes that threaten patients' safety because of fatigue. But are these rules really the best for new doctors and their patients? There's been intense debate over that and some say little data to resolve the question. So a group of researchers decided to follow thousands of medical residents at dozens of hospitals...

Global warming isn't the only vexing issue the world wrestled with this week. While delegates gathered in Paris to discuss climate change, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing convened in Washington, D.C., to debate another conundrum: How far should scientists go when editing human DNA? The main focus was whether scientists should be allowed to use powerful new genetic engineering techniques to edit genes in human eggs, sperm or embryos — an extremely controversial step that raises...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST: Hundreds of scientists from around the world are gathering in Washington, D.C. today for what some say could be a historic meeting. They are attending an international summit to debate one of the most controversial subjects in science today, editing human DNA. NPR's health correspondent, Rob Stein, joins us now to explain what this is all about. Rob, good morning. ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda....

Throughout history, atrocities have been committed in the name of medical research. Nazi doctors experimented on concentration camp prisoners. American doctors let poor black men with syphilis go untreated in the Tuskegee study . The list goes on. To protect people participating in medical research, the federal government decades ago put in place strict rules on the conduct of human experiments. Now the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a major revision of these regulations...

One of the most intense debates in men's health has flared again: How often should men get screened for prostate cancer? This debate has simmered since 2012, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force shocked many patients and doctors by recommending against routine prostate cancer screening. Some doctors welcomed the change by the influential panel of experts, saying it would save many men from experiencing false alarms and potentially serious complications of unnecessary treatment. Others...

An intense debate has flared over whether the federal government should fund research that creates partly human creatures using human stem cells. The National Institutes of Health declared a moratorium in late September on funding this kind of research. NIH officials said they needed to assess the science and to evaluate the ethical and moral questions it raises. As part of that assessment, the NIH is holding a daylong workshop Friday. Meanwhile, some prominent scientists worry that the NIH...

Biologist Ethan Bier runs a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego where fruit flies are used to help unravel the processes that lead to some human diseases. One day recently, a graduate student in the lab called him over to take a look at the results of the latest experiment. Bier was stunned by what he saw. "It was one of the most astounding days in my personal scientific career," Bier says. "When he first showed me, I could not believe it." His student, Valentino Gantz , had...

A decades-long decline in the death rate of middle-aged white Americans has reversed in recent years, according to a surprising new analysis released Monday. The cause of the reversal remains unclear. Researchers speculate it might be the result of the bad economy fueling a rise in suicides, plus overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin, and alcohol abuse. "That could be just a volatile mix that could set off something like this," says Angus Deaton , a professor...

It's become an emotional debate: Do e-cigarettes help people get off regular cigarettes or are they a new avenue for addiction? Until now, there has been little solid evidence to back up either side. But a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could help fill that void. E-cigarettes work by heating up a fluid that contains the drug nicotine, producing a vapor that users inhale. The CDC found that nearly 48 percent of current tobacco smokers said they had tried e...

Most women don't need to start getting an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer until they turn 45, according to the latest guidelines from the American Cancer Society. Previously, the society recommended women start annual mammograms at 40 and continue every year for as long they remained in good health. The new recommendations also say women can cut mammograms back to every two years once they turn 55 — if they have an average risk for breast cancer. These women can continue that...

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