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
1:04 am
Mon June 24, 2013

Proposed Changes In Organ Donation Stir Debate

Hospitals and organ banks could get more leeway in decisions about donations.
Sean Gallup Getty Images

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 9:55 am

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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Shots - Health News
1:08 pm
Tue June 18, 2013

FDA Backs Off On Regulation Of Fecal Transplants

Bad bug: The bacterium Clostridium difficile kills 14,000 people in the United States each year.
Janice Carr CDC/dapd

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 8:34 am

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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Shots - Health News
4:41 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Girl's Need Breathes Life Into Debate Over Organ Allocation

Sarah Murnaghan, on May 30, as she and her parents marked the 100th day of her stay in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Murnaghan family AP

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 3:38 pm

The case of a Pennsylvania girl who is dying from cystic fibrosis has sparked an emotional debate over how the nation allocates lungs for transplantation.

Ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan is in intensive care at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia awaiting a lung transplant. Under the current rules, lungs from adults are offered to other adults and adolescents before being offered to children younger than 12.

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Shots - Health News
3:08 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 2:41 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
11:18 am
Wed May 22, 2013

Research Reveals Yeasty Beasts Living On Our Skin

Fungi (cyan) surround a human hair within the skin. A study in the journal Nature shows the population of fungi on human skin is more diverse that previously thought.
Alex Valm, Ph.D.

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 9:20 am

Scientists have completed an unusual survey: a census of the fungi that inhabit different places on our skin. It's part of a big scientific push to better understand the microbes that live in and on our bodies.

"This is the first study of our fungi, which are yeast and other molds that live on the human body," says Julie Segre, of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the survey.

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Shots - Health News
1:43 am
Mon May 6, 2013

Parents' Saliva On Pacifiers Could Ward Off Baby's Allergies

Sucking may be one of the most beneficial ways to clean a baby's dirty pacifier, a study found
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 8:33 am

That word "microbiome" — describing the collection of bacteria that live in and on our bodies — keeps popping up. This time, researchers say that children whose parents clean their pacifiers by sucking them might be less likely to develop allergic conditions because of how their parents' saliva changes their microbiomes.

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Shots - Health News
4:01 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 8:38 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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Shots - Health News
5:17 pm
Wed April 10, 2013

How Much Does It Hurt? Let's Scan Your Brain

A technique for imaging the brain allowed researchers to distinguish between physical and emotional pain.
Courtesy of Tom Wager

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 1:16 pm

Scientists reported Wednesday that they had developed a way to measure how much pain people are experiencing by scanning their brains.

The researchers hope the technique will help doctors treat pain better, but the work is also raising concerns about whether the technique might interfere with doctors simply listening to their patients.

Now, when someone is in pain, a doctor has no way to judge its severity except to ask questions, a method that often is inadequate.

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Shots - Health News
1:30 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Researchers Use Brain Scans To Reveal Hidden Dreamscape

A window into dreams may now be opening.
Silver Screen Collection Getty Images

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 12:57 pm

Scientists say they have found a way to get a glimpse of people's dreams.

"Our results show that we can predict what a person's seeing during dreams," says Yukiyasu Kamitani, a researcher at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan.

Philosophers, poets and psychologists have long shared a fascination with dreams. But Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley says solving the mystery of our dreams is one tough problem.

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Shots - Health News
3:16 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

China's Air Pollution Linked To Millions Of Early Deaths

Men walk along a railway line in Beijing on Jan. 12, as air pollution reached hazardous levels.
Wang Zhao AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 10, 2014 12:25 pm

More than 1 million people are dying prematurely every year from air pollution in China, according to a new analysis.

"This is the highest toll in the world and it really reflects the very high levels of air pollution that exist in China today," says Robert O'Keefe of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, who presented the findings in Beijing this week.

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Shots - Health News
1:16 am
Tue March 19, 2013

Bioethics Panel Warns Against Anthrax Vaccine Testing On Kids

The anthrax vaccine has been given to more than 1 million adults in the military. But no one knows how well it would work in children.
Randy Davey Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue March 19, 2013 8:42 am

A controversial government proposal to test the anthrax vaccine in children would be unethical without first conducting much more research, a presidential commission concluded Tuesday.

"The federal government would have to take multiple steps before anthrax vaccine trials with children could be ethically considered," Amy Gutmann, who chairs the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, tells Shots. "It would not be ethical to do it today."

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Shots - Health News
11:10 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Americans More Distracted Behind The Wheel Than Europeans

A woman uses a cellphone while driving in Los Angeles in 2011.
Damian Dovarganes AP

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 2:34 pm

U.S. drivers are much more likely than Europeans to drive while distracted, federal health officials report Thursday.

Nearly 69 percent of Americans who drive say that they talked on their cell phones while driving at least once in the previous month, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's a lot higher than what was reported by Europeans in another survey. Only 21 percent of British drivers reported chatting on their cell phones while behind the wheel, for example. In Germany and France it was about 40 percent.

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Shots - Health News
1:00 pm
Tue March 5, 2013

Infections With 'Nightmare Bacteria' Are On The Rise In U.S. Hospitals

Klebsiella pneumoniae, seen here with an electron microscope, are the most common superbugs causing highly drug-resistant infections in hospitals.
Kwangshin Kim Science Source

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 2:34 pm

Federal officials warned Tuesday that an especially dangerous group of superbugs has become a significant health problem in hospitals throughout the United States.

These germs, known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, have become much more common in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the risk they pose to health is becoming evident.

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Shots - Health News
1:26 am
Mon February 25, 2013

Pediatricians Urged To Treat Ear Infections More Cautiously

Giancario Gemignani-Hernandez, 2, of Pittsburgh has his ear examined by Dr. Alejandro Hoberman.
Gene J. Puskar AP

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 4:40 pm

Hoping to reduce unnecessary antibiotics use, the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued new guidelines for how doctors should diagnose and treat ear infections.

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Shots - Health News
2:18 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

Popular Workout Booster Draws Safety Scrutiny

Some sports supplements contain the ingredient DMAA. The FDA has warned that DMAA may not be safe.
iStockphoto.com

Richard Kessinger loves to hit the gym. But some days he needs a little something to get him pumped up for his weightlifting routine.

"You might be a little bit sore. You might be tired. You might have had too many beers the day before," says Kessinger, 23, of Arlington, Va. "So you might start putting up a set and you get a few reps in and you're like, 'I'm not feeling this. I can't keep going.' "

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Shots - Health News
3:32 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

Aging Poorly: Another Act Of Baby Boomer Rebellion

Health researchers say the proportion of people in their late 40s to 60s with diabetes, hypertension or obesity has increased over the past two decades.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed February 6, 2013 8:40 am

Baby boomers have a reputation for being addicted to exercise and obsessed with eating well.

But that story didn't jibe with what physician Dana E. King and his colleagues see walking through the door of their family practice every day in Morgantown, W.Va.

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Shots - Health News
3:12 pm
Fri January 25, 2013

To Fight Addiction, FDA Advisers Endorse Limits On Vicodin

An FDA advisory panel voted to increase controls on painkillers containing hydrocodone, such as this generic version of Vicodin.
Sue Ogrocki Associated Press

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 12:38 pm

A key federal panel Friday recommended placing new restrictions on Vicodin and similar prescription painkillers.

At the conclusion of an emotional two-day hearing, the Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 19-10 to recommend the agency change how drugs that contain the opioid hydrocodone are classified as controlled substances.

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Shots - Health News
1:29 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Painkiller Paradox: Feds Struggle To Control Drugs That Help And Harm

Carolyn Tuft and her daughter Kirsten (seen here in 2005) were the victims of a shooting at a Salt Lake City mall in 2007. Kirsten was one of five bystanders killed, and Carolyn was left in severe pain.
Courtesy of Carolyn Tuft

Originally published on Wed January 23, 2013 11:38 am

A few years ago, a doctor started prescribing Michael Israel painkillers for bad cramps in his gut. Israel had been struggling with Crohn's disease, a chronic digestive disorder, since he was a teenager.

"So he was prescribed, you know, Lortab, or Vicodin or whatever. You know, they would flip-flop it from one to another," says Avi Israel, Michael's father.

Then one day, Michael confessed that something was wrong.

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Shots - Health News
10:26 am
Thu January 10, 2013

Wake-Up Call: FDA Pushes Drugmakers To Weaken Sleeping Pills

Tim Boyle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 4:26 pm

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it was requiring companies that make Ambien and similar sleeping pills to sharply cut the doses of the drugs.

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Shots - Health News
1:49 am
Tue January 8, 2013

Can You Get A Flu Shot And Still Get The Flu?

Shea Catlin, a nurse practitioner, doses out flu vaccine to give a shot at a CVS Minute Clinic in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 3.
Barbara L. Salisbury The Washington Times/Landov

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 4:06 am

This year's flu season started about a month early, prompting federal health officials to warn it could be one of the worst in years. They're urging everyone to get their flu shots.

But like every flu season, there are lots of reports of people complaining that they got their shot but still got the flu. What's up with that?

Well, as Michael Jhung of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, there are lots of possible reasons.

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Shots - Health News
3:02 pm
Wed December 26, 2012

How A Drug Shortage Hiked Relapse Risks For Lymphoma Patients

The number of new drug shortages each year in the U.S., from 2001 through Dec. 21, 2012.
University of Utah

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 5:24 pm

Katie Alonzo was stunned when doctors told her they couldn't get a drug her 10-year-old daughter, Abby, was taking to fight lymphoma.

"When a doctor says, 'This is what you need to take.' And then all of a sudden somebody tells you, 'Well, that is what you need to take but this isn't available so we're going to try this instead,' it's very scary," say Alonzo, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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Shots - Health News
1:21 am
Mon December 24, 2012

Chance To Pause Biological Clock With Ovarian Transplant Stirs Debate

Sherman Silber, a surgeon at the Infertility Center of St. Louis, offers women a procedure that he claims will put their biological clocks on ice.
Courtesy of Infertility Center of St. Louis

Originally published on Mon December 24, 2012 7:34 pm

When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started getting really worried about whether she'd ever have kids.

"I bought this kit online that said that they could tell you your ovarian reserve," Gardner, now 40, says. These kits claim they can tell women how long their ovaries will continue producing eggs and how much time they have left to get pregnant.

"Well, mine said, 'we advise really you have a baby now.' Well, sadly that letter arrived three weeks after I just split up with my long-term partner. So, yeah, it opened a massive can of worms really," she says.

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Shots - Health News
12:32 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Genome Sequencing For Babies Brings Knowledge And Conflicts

By sequencing a newborn's genome, doctors could screen for more genetic conditions. But parents could be confronted with confusing or ambiguous data about their baby's health.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 9:21 am

When Christine Rowan gave birth prematurely in August, her new baby was having problems breathing. So Rowan brought her daughter, Zoe, to the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for genetic testing.

"It's funny because when we first had the testing done, we didn't even really think about the fact the testing was going to lay out all of her DNA," says Rowan, 32, who lives in Northern Virginia.

But while Rowan and her husband were waiting for the results, questions started popping into their heads.

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Shots - Health News
3:57 pm
Wed November 14, 2012

Lawmakers Clash With FDA Over Meningitis Outbreak

New England Compounding Center co-owner Barry Cadden went to Capitol Hill for a congressional hearing Wednesday on the fungal meningitis outbreak. Choosing to take the Fifth Amendment, Cadden did not testify.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 5:17 pm

Members of a House subcommittee clashed repeatedly Wednesday with U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg over the outbreak of meningitis caused by contaminated steroid injections.

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Shots - Health News
5:17 pm
Wed October 31, 2012

Sandy Leaves Long List Of Health Threats

People look at homes and businesses destroyed during Superstorm Sandy on Tuesday in the Rockaway section of Queens, N.Y.
Spencer Plat Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 4:36 pm

Public health officials are warning that people in areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy face many risks in the aftermath and are urging people to protect themselves from health threats in the water, air and even their refrigerators.

As millions of people try to put their lives back together, the most obvious threat is the floodwaters themselves. In many places, the water could be a toxic stew.

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Shots - Health News
2:17 am
Mon October 29, 2012

Pricey New Prostate Cancer Therapy Raises Questions About Safety, Cost

Radiation therapist Jean Etienne holds a range compensator, which shapes the depth to which the proton beam enters a patient's body to target a tumor.
Rebecca Davis NPR

Originally published on Mon October 29, 2012 8:42 am

Bill Sneddon had a feeling he was in trouble when his doctor called with his latest test results.

"I just had a premonition that something's not right," said Sneddon, 68, of Ocean Township, N.J.

And, sure enough, Sneddon's instincts were right. He had prostate cancer.

"Well, it's an eye-opener, you know. I didn't know if I had to buy a yard sale sign, you know," he said. "It's a shocking thing ... It always happens to someone else."

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Shots - Health News
3:00 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Freezing Eggs To Make Babies Later Moves Toward Mainstream

Human embryos under a microscope at an IVF clinic in La Jolla, Calif.
Sandy Huffaker Getty Images

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 11:03 am

Doctors who specialize in treating infertility are making a big change in their position on a controversial practice. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has concluded that freezing women's eggs to treat infertility should no longer be considered "experimental."

The group plans to officially announce the change on Monday.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:28 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Scientists Create Fertile Eggs From Mouse Stem Cells

Each of these mouse pups was born from an egg scientists created using embryonic stem cells. It's possible the technology could change future treatment for human infertility.
Katsuhiko Hayashi

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 6:45 pm

Scientists in Japan report they have created eggs from stem cells in a mammal for the first time. And the researchers went on to breed healthy offspring from the eggs they created.

While the experiments involved mice, the work is being met with excitement — and questions — about doing the same thing for humans someday.

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Shots - Health Blog
1:31 am
Tue October 2, 2012

Will Low-Cost Genome Sequencing Open 'Pandora's Box'?

The Proton Semiconductor Sequencer from Ion Torrent Systems Inc. is a new DNA sequencing machine designed to sequence the entire human genome in about eight hours for $1,000.
Ethan Miller Getty Images

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 8:54 am

Beau Gunderson's fascinated by what he might learn from his DNA.

"I'm curious about what makes me tick, essentially," says Gunderson, 29, who writes code for a Silicon Valley startup.

So Gunderson has signed up for every genetic test he's been able to afford. And he can't wait for the price of getting his entire genetic code — his genome — to drop to about $1,000, as many are predicting is imminent.

"Yeah, if the price does drop — to a thousand bucks for example — I might pay that. That's a good personal price point for me," Gunderson said.

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Shots - Health Blog
1:19 am
Tue September 25, 2012

Doctors Sift Through Patients' Genomes To Solve Medical Mysteries

Sara Terry and her son, Christian, in Spring, Texas. After sequencing Christian's genome, doctors were able to diagnose him with a Noonan-like syndrome.
Eric Kayne for NPR

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 10:00 am

Sara Terry's first clue that something was wrong with her son, Christian, came just three weeks after he was born.

"We went to check on him, just like any parents go and check on their kids just to make sure they're breathing," says Terry, 34, of Spring, Texas. "And we found him in his crib, and he wasn't breathing. He was blue."

She and her husband were horrified. They rushed Christian to the hospital and learned he had several medical problems.

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