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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3:32pm

Mon February 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Aging Poorly: Another Act Of Baby Boomer Rebellion

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

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

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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3:10pm

Fri January 25, 2013
Shots - Health News

To Fight Addiction, FDA Advisers Endorse Limits On Vicodin

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

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

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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1:29am

Wed January 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

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

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

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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11:49am

Fri January 18, 2013
Shots - Health News

CDC: Flu Season Is Especially Tough On The Elderly

Sonia Despiar, right, a nurse with Gouverneur Healthcare Services, injects Imelda Silva with flu vaccine on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York. At least 10 elderly people and two children in New York have died from the flu and hospitalizations are climbing as the illness hits every county in the state.
Bebeto Matthews AP

Federal health officials say this year's flu season shaping up to be especially severe for the elderly.

According to the latest update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people age 65 and older who are getting the flu jumped sharply in the last week or so. They are being hospitalized at a rate of about 82 per 100,000 cases. That's the rate that is seen during severe seasons, officials said.

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11:47am

Fri January 11, 2013
Shots - Health News

CDC Says Flu Could Be Waning In Places, But Worst May Not Be Over

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 12:45 pm

Registered nurse Michelle Newbury and physician assistant Scott Fillman see patients Thursday in a tent set up for people with flu symptoms, just outside the emergency entrance at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa.
Matt Rourke AP

Federal healthy officials said Friday there are some early signs this year's flu season may be easing in some parts of the country. But they stressed it's far too early to tell whether the flu season has peaked.

The number of states reporting widespread flu activity is up to 47, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But flu activity nationally fell slightly in the CDC's most recent data. Five states reported less flu than a week earlier, according to the CDC.

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10:26am

Thu January 10, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

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

Tim Boyle Getty Images

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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1:49am

Tue January 8, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

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

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

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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3:02pm

Wed December 26, 2012
Shots - Health News

How A Drug Shortage Hiked Relapse Risks For Lymphoma Patients

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

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

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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1:21am

Mon December 24, 2012
Shots - Health News

Chance To Pause Biological Clock With Ovarian Transplant Stirs Debate

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

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

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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1:52pm

Fri December 7, 2012
Shots - Health News

Unusually Early Flu Season Intensifies

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 2:07 pm

The number of states experiencing widespread flu doubled in the past week.
CDC

This year's unusually early flu season is continuing to intensify, federal health officials say.

The number of states now reporting widespread flu activity doubled to eight in the past week, according to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's.

Last week Alaska, Mississippi, New York and South Carolina were reporting widespread flu. Now, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island have joined the list.

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1:57pm

Thu December 6, 2012
Shots - Health News

Perfection Is Skin Deep: Everyone Has Flawed Genes

Originally published on Thu December 6, 2012 8:19 pm

When researchers looked at the genetic sequences of 179 individuals, they found far more defects in the patterns of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs than they expected.
iStockphoto.com

We all know that nobody's perfect. But now scientists have documented that fact on a genetic level.

Researchers discovered that normal, healthy people are walking around with a surprisingly large number of mutations in their genes.

It's been well known that everyone has flaws in their DNA, though, for the most part, the defects are harmless. It's been less clear, however, just how many mistakes are lurking in someone's genes.

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12:11pm

Mon December 3, 2012
Shots - Health News

Genome Sequencing For Babies Brings Knowledge And Conflicts

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

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

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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4:23pm

Wed November 14, 2012
Shots - Health News

Lawmakers Clash With FDA Over Meningitis Outbreak

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

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

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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3:58am

Thu November 1, 2012
Shots - Health News

Sandy Leaves Long List Of Health Threats

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

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

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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2:17am

Mon October 29, 2012
Shots - Health News

Pricey New Prostate Cancer Therapy Raises Questions About Safety, Cost

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

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

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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12:05pm

Wed October 24, 2012
Shots - Health News

Geneticists Breach Ethical Taboo By Changing Genes Across Generations

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 12:21 pm

An image of researchers at Oregon Health & Science University removing the nucleus from the mother's cell before it's inserted into the donor's egg cell.
Courtesty of Oregon Health & Science University

Geneticist reported Wednesday that they had crossed a threshold long considered off-limits: They have made changes in human DNA that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

The researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland say they took the step to try to prevent women from giving birth to babies with genetic diseases. But the research is raising a host of ethical, social and moral questions.

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3:00am

Fri October 19, 2012
Shots - Health News

Freezing Eggs To Make Babies Later Moves Toward Mainstream

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

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

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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12:28pm

Thu October 4, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Scientists Create Fertile Eggs From Mouse Stem Cells

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

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

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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1:31am

Tue October 2, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

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

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

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

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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1:19am

Tue September 25, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Doctors Sift Through Patients' Genomes To Solve Medical Mysteries

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

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

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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