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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Shots - Health News
10:14 am
Tue May 12, 2015

Seasons May Tweak Genes That Trigger Some Chronic Diseases

Originally published on Thu May 14, 2015 12:26 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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Shots - Health News
2:49 pm
Thu May 7, 2015

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

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

Originally published on Thu May 7, 2015 4:21 pm

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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Shots - Health News
12:10 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

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

iStockphoto

Originally published on Sun May 3, 2015 5:56 pm

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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Shots - Health News
6:45 am
Thu April 23, 2015

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

iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri April 24, 2015 9:34 am

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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Shots - Health News
1:08 pm
Wed April 22, 2015

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

Mmm. Smells just like your identical twin.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 9:19 am

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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Shots - Health News
12:54 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Screening Tests For Breast Cancer Genes Just Got Cheaper

iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 12:29 pm

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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Shots - Health News
12:46 am
Mon April 20, 2015

FDA Ponders Putting Homeopathy To A Tougher Test

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 8:08 am

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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Shots - Health News
3:24 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

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

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

Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 5:13 pm

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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Shots - Health News
2:25 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Why Knuckles Crack

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

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 6:39 pm

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

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Shots - Health News
1:36 pm
Mon April 6, 2015

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

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

Originally published on Mon April 6, 2015 4:48 pm

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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Shots - Health News
12:53 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Tobacco Firm Seeks Softer Warning For Cigarette Alternative

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
2:12 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Scientists Urge Temporary Moratorium On Human Genome Edits

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

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 4:58 pm

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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Goats and Soda
3:34 pm
Tue March 17, 2015

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

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

Originally published on Wed March 18, 2015 9:23 am

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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Shots - Health News
12:43 am
Thu March 5, 2015

Fertility Clinic Courts Controversy With Treatment That Recharges Eggs

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

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 1:57 pm

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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Shots - Health News
2:03 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

FDA Mandates Tougher Warnings On Testosterone

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

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 2:03 pm

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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Shots - Health News
2:37 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Infections With Dangerous Gut Microbe Still On The Rise

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

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 3:34 pm

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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The Salt
1:39 pm
Mon February 23, 2015

Feeding Babies Foods With Peanuts Appears To Prevent Allergies

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 11:28 am

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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Shots - Health News
9:41 pm
Sun February 22, 2015

Kids, Allergies And A Possible Downside To Squeaky Clean Dishes

Vidhya Nagarajan for NPR

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 8:21 am

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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Shots - Health News
1:09 pm
Mon February 16, 2015

Female Libido Pill Fires Up Debate About Women And Sex

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 5:35 am

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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Shots - Health News
12:33 am
Mon February 9, 2015

Harnessing The Immune System To Fight Cancer

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

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 1:35 pm

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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