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.

The list of things that can be created with 3-D printers keeps getting longer: jewelry, art, guns, food, medical devices and, now, mouse ovaries.

Scientists have used a 3-D printer to create a mouse ovary capable of producing healthy offspring. And researchers hope to create replacement human ovaries the same way someday.

There's more grim news about inequality in America.

New research documents significant disparities in the life spans of Americans depending on where they live. And those gaps appear to be widening, according to the research.

For decades, black Americans have been dying at a higher rate than white Americans.

That's still true overall. But now there's some good news about this long, disturbing trend: The overall death rate for black Americans fell 25 percent between 1999 and 2015, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists have created an "artificial womb" in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely.

So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.

An influential federal task force is relaxing its controversial opposition to routine screening for prostate cancer.

In the proposed revised guidelines released Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says men ages 55 to 69 should decide individually with their doctors whether and when to undergo prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing.

Scientists say they've made a device in the lab that can mimic the human female reproductive cycle.

How far should scientists be allowed to go in creating things that resemble primitive human brains, hearts, and even human embryos?

That's the question being asked by a group of Harvard scientists who are doing exactly that in their labs. They're using stem cells, genetics and other new biological engineering techniques to create tissues, primitive organs and other living structures that mimic parts of the human body.

Their concern is that they and others doing this type of "synthetic biology" research might be treading into disturbing territory.

Scientists have long hoped that stem cells might have the power to treat diseases. But it's always been clear that they could be dangerous too, especially if they're not used carefully.

Now a pair of papers published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine is underscoring both the promise and the peril of using stem cells for therapy.

Scientists have taken another important step toward creating different types of synthetic life in the laboratory.

An international research consortium reports Thursday that it has figured out an efficient method for synthesizing a substantial part of the genetic code of yeast.

"We are absolutely thrilled," says Jef Boeke, a geneticist at New York University School of Medicine, who is leading the project. "This is a significant step toward our goal."

Ali Brivanlou slides open a glass door at the Rockefeller University in New York to show off his latest experiments probing the mysteries of the human embryo.

"As you can see, all my lab is glass — just to make sure there is nothing that happens in some dark rooms that gives people some weird ideas," says Brivanlou, perhaps only half joking.

Brivanlou knows that some of his research makes some people uncomfortable. That's one reason he has agreed to give me a look at what's going on.

Scientists could be allowed to make modifications in human DNA that can be passed down through subsequent generations, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine say.

Such a groundbreaking step should only be considered after more research and then only be conducted under tight restrictions, the academies write in a highly anticipated report released Tuesday. Such work should be reserved to prevent serious diseases and disabilities, it says.

Federal health officials may be about to get greatly enhanced powers to quarantine people, as part of an ongoing effort to stop outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases.

The new powers are outlined in a set of regulations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last month to update the agency's quarantine authority for the first time since the 1940s.

The Obama administration has dropped a controversial proposal that would have required all federally funded scientists to get permission from patients before using their cells, blood, tissue or DNA for research.

For years, women have been told that regular mammograms can help reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by catching tumors at their earliest, most treatable stages.

But a Danish study is the latest research to challenge that assumption. Researchers followed thousands of women in Denmark over more than a decade and found that perhaps one-third of the abnormalities detected by mammograms may never cause health problems.

Doctors have long known that black people are more likely than white people to suffer from diseases such as high blood pressure. A study suggests that racial discrimination may be playing a role in a surprising way.

The study, which involved 150 African-Americans living in Tallahassee, Fla., found that knowing someone who had experienced racial discrimination was associated with genetic markers that may affect risk for high blood pressure.

It's a cold, damp fall day in London. But in a windowless basement laboratory, it feels like the tropics. It's hot and humid. That's to keep the mosquitoes happy.

"In this cage, we have the adult mosquitoes," says Andrew Hammond, a genetic engineer at Imperial College London, as he picks up a container made out of white mosquito netting.

The lab is buzzing with hundreds of mosquitoes. "Everything in this cubicle is genetically modified," Hammond says, pointing to the container of mosquitoes.

One big question about the Zika virus has been how big a risk the virus might pose in the United States.

Studies earlier this year suggested that birth defects and other problems were mainly limited to babies born in some parts of Brazil.

A study out Tuesday provides a sense of the effects on women who were exposed while pregnant in other countries and then came to the United States. About 6 percent of those pregnancies resulted in defects in the fetus or baby.

One of the fundamental ways scientists measure the well-being of a nation is tracking the rate at which its citizens die and how long they can be expected to live.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

For years, medical interns have been limited to working no more than 16 hours without a break to minimize the chances they would make mistakes while fatigued. But that restriction could soon be eased.

The group that sets the rules for medical residents proposed scrapping the 16-hour limit for interns, doctors in their first year of on-the-job training after finishing medical school. The new rule would let these new doctors work for as many as 28 hours at a stretch.

Human life spans have been increasing for decades thanks to advances in treating and preventing diseases and improved social conditions.

In fact, longevity has increased so much in recent decades that some researchers began to wonder: What is the upper limit on human aging?

Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries about "autophagy" — a fundamental process cells use to degrade and recycle parts of themselves.

Ohsumi, 71, is a professor emeritus at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan. As the sole winner, Ohsumi will receive more than $930,000.

Men who may have been exposed to the Zika virus should wait at least six months before trying to conceive a child with a partner, regardless of whether they ever had any symptoms, federal health officials are recommending.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously recommended that only men with Zika symptoms had to wait that long. Those who may have been exposed to Zika but never developed any symptoms were told to hold off on trying to conceive for just eight weeks.

Federal health officials are urging all Americans to get their flu shots as soon as possible, and are especially concerned that too few elderly people are getting vaccinated.

"Flu is serious. Flu is unpredictable," Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters during a joint briefing Thursday with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "Flu often does not get enough respect."

A doctor who treats infertility in New York City says he has helped a couple have the first baby purposefully created with DNA from three different adults.

John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in Manhattan traveled to Mexico earlier this year to perform a procedure for a couple from Jordan that enabled them to have the baby in May, according to a clinic spokesman.

A scientist in Sweden has started trying to edit the DNA in healthy human embryos, NPR has learned.

The step by the developmental biologist Fredrik Lanner makes him the first researcher known to attempt to modify the genes of healthy human embryos. That has long been considered taboo because of safety and ethical concerns.

Hundreds of clinics around the country are offering to treat a long list of health problems with stem cells.

The clinics claim that stem cells found in fat tissue, blood, bone marrow and even placentas can help people suffering from arthritic joints and torn tendons to more serious medical problems, including spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and strokes. Some even claim the cells can help children with autism.

But leading stem cell researchers say there's not enough evidence to support the clinics' claims.

Mosquitoes have begun spreading the Zika virus in a second part of Miami — the popular tourist destination of Miami Beach — Florida officials announced Friday.

When parents are trying to keep their children safe, one of the things many do is to transport their kids in a stroller or baby carrier.

While strollers and carriers are generally safe when used properly, a new study is a reminder that even these devices can be dangerous, especially when parents don't use them properly.

The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.

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