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
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 Thu October 23, 2014 11:49 am

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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Shots - Health News
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
6:50 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

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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Shots - Health News
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
4:53 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
3:24 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

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 4:24 pm

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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Shots - Health News
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
1:17 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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Shots - Health News
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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Shots - Health News
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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Shots - Health News
3:31 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 5:07 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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Shots - Health News
3:03 pm
Thu July 4, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 9:06 am

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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Shots - Health News
4:52 pm
Wed July 3, 2013

Scientists Grow A Simple, Human Liver In A Petri Dish

"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

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 9:48 am

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 — before the technique reaches clinics.

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Shots - Health News
3:04 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 11:55 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
3:41 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 10:34 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
5:05 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 4:41 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
1:18 pm
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 11:20 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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