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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3:16pm

Wed January 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

Adult Obesity May Have Origins Way Back In Kindergarten

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 1:20 pm

Playing outside can help kids β€” and their parents β€” maintain a healthy weight.
iStockphoto

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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1:39am

Mon January 20, 2014
Shots - Health News

Can Probiotics Help Soothe Colicky Babies?

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 1:53 pm

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

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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1:07am

Mon November 18, 2013
Shots - Health News

Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 10:58 am

Illustration by Benjamin Arthur for NPR

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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11:46am

Wed November 6, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 1:27 pm

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

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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1:45am

Mon November 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Exploring The Invisible Universe That Lives On Us β€” And In Us

Originally published on Thu October 23, 2014 9:49 am

Benjamin Arthur for NPR

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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1:16am

Mon November 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Getting Your Microbes Analyzed Raises Big Privacy Issues

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 1:28 pm

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

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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4:50pm

Thu October 24, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

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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12:58am

Wed October 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Proposed Treatment To Fix Genetic Diseases Raises Ethical Issues

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 1:39 pm

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

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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2:15pm

Mon September 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

Could Detectives Use Microbes To Solve Murders?

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 11:30 am

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

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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11:14am

Thu September 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Big Measles Outbreaks Worry Federal Health Officials

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 12:06 pm

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

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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2:24pm

Tue September 10, 2013
Shots - Health News

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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3:19pm

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

Microbe Transplants Treat Some Diseases That Drugs Can't Fix

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 3:20 pm

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

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 β€” 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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1:28am

Mon September 9, 2013
Shots - Health News

From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 11:58 am

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

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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12:53pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

How A Change In Gut Microbes Can Affect Weight

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 11:56 am

Dreaming of slimming gut microbes?
iStockphoto.com

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

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11:05am

Thu September 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

Kids' Use Of Electronic Cigarettes Doubles

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 6:24 am

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

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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11:30am

Wed August 28, 2013
Shots - Health News

Diverse Gut Microbes, A Trim Waistline And Health Go Together

Originally published on Wed August 28, 2013 4:39 pm

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

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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1:03pm

Mon August 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Brains Of Dying Rats Yield Clues About Near-Death Experiences

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 5:57 am

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

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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1:31am

Mon July 22, 2013
Shots - Health News

Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 3:07 pm

Not so long ago, most people thought that the only good microbe was a dead microbe.

But then scientists started to realize that even though some bugs can make us sick and even kill us, most don't.

In fact, in the past decade attitudes about the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living all over our bodies has almost completely turned around. Now scientists say that not only are those microbes often not harmful, we can't live without them.

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1:03pm

Thu July 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Gut Bacteria We Pick Up As Kids Stick With Us For Decades

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 7:06 am

Streptococcus bacteria, like this strain, can be found in our guts.
Janice Haney Carr CDC Public Health Image Library

Most of the microbes in our guts appear to remain stable for years, perhaps even most of our lives, researchers reported Thursday.

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2:52pm

Wed July 3, 2013
Shots - Health News

Scientists Grow A Simple, Human Liver In A Petri Dish

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 7:48 am

"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

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 β€” before the technique reaches clinics.

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