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
1:26 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Flu Strikes Younger Adults Hard This Year

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
2:07 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

An Artificial Arm Gives One Man The Chance To Feel Again

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
3:45 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 8:12 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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Health
5:30 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 3:20 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
3:39 am
Mon January 20, 2014

Can Probiotics Help Soothe Colicky Babies?

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

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

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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Health
3:07 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds

Illustration by Benjamin Arthur for NPR

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

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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Shots - Health News
1:46 pm
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 3:27 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
3:45 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 3:28 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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Health
3:16 am
Mon November 4, 2013

Getting Your Microbes Analyzed Raises Big Privacy Issues

Say hello to your microbiome, Rob Stein. Our intrepid correspondent decided to get his gut bacteria analyzed. Now he's wondering if he needs to eat more garlic and onions.
Morgan Walker NPR

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 3:28 pm

After spending months working on a series of stories about the trillions of friendly microbes that live in and on our bodies, I decided it might be interesting to explore my own microbiome.

So I pulled out my credit card and paid the $99 needed to sign up for the American Gut Project, one of a couple of "citizen science" or crowdsourced microbiome projects.

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Shots - Health News
6:16 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 6:50 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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Health
2:58 am
Wed October 9, 2013

Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
5:01 pm
Mon September 23, 2013

Could Detectives Use Microbes To Solve Murders?

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
1:14 pm
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 2:06 pm

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
4:24 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

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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Health
4:57 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 5:20 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
3:28 am
Mon September 9, 2013

From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint

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

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

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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Shots - Health News
2:53 pm
Thu September 5, 2013

How A Change In Gut Microbes Can Affect Weight

Dreaming of slimming gut microbes?
iStockphoto.com

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

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

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Shots - Health News
1:23 pm
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 8:24 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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Health
1:12 pm
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 6:39 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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Science + Technology
3:03 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 7:57 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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