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.

From the thirteenth floor of a glass tower at the Oregon Health & Science University, you get a panoramic view of downtown Portland and the majestic mountains in the distance. But it's what's happening inside the building that's brought me here.

"Should we go do this thing?" lab manager Amy Koski asks.

Scientists have been tinkering with the DNA in humans and other living things for decades. But one thing has long been considered off-limits: modifying human DNA in any way that could be passed down for generations.

A new kind of cancer treatment that uses genetically engineered cells from a patient's immune system to attack their cancer easily cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this "living drug" approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukemia. The agency doesn't have to follow the committee's recommendation but usually does.

The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Millions of Americans are addicted to the powerful prescription painkillers, and tens of thousands are dying each year from overdoses.

A new report out Thursday offers a bit of hope: Doctors are prescribing opioids less often, and the average dose they're giving patients has dropped, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Advances in technology have made it much easier, faster and less expensive to do whole genome sequencing — to spell out all three billion letters in a person's genetic code. Falling costs have given rise to speculation that it could soon become a routine part of medical care, perhaps as routine as checking your blood pressure.

But will such tests, which can be done for as little as $1,000, prove useful, or needlessly scary?

The use of electronic cigarettes by middle and high school students in the United States has dropped for the first time since the federal government started tracking the use of these products by young people.

The number of teenagers using e-cigarettes fell from 3 million in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2016, according to a report published Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The Food and Drug Administration requested Thursday that the drugmaker Endo Pharmaceuticals stop selling Opana ER — its extended-release version of Opana.

The FDA says the move marks the first time the agency has taken steps to remove an opioid from the market because of "public health consequences of abuse."

Provocative new research suggests that fetuses have the ability to discern faces when they're still in the womb.

A study involving 34-week-old fetuses found they were more likely to focus on a pattern of lights that resembled a human face than on the same lights configured to look nothing like a face.

Scientists say they may have solved a big medical mystery: why mammograms don't save more lives.

A study involving thousands of breast cancer cases, released Wednesday, concludes that a significant proportion of tumors detected through mammography are not small because they are found early.

Instead, the tumors are small because they are biologically prone to slow growth.

Nursing homes and hospitals need to do more to protect their patients from catching Legionnaires' disease from contaminated water systems in their buildings, federal health officials warned Tuesday.

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?

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