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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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
3:42 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
6:03 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Girl's Need Breathes Life Into Debate Over Organ Allocation

Sarah Murnaghan, on May 30, as she and her parents marked the 100th day of her stay in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Murnaghan family AP

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 5:38 pm

The case of a Pennsylvania girl who is dying from cystic fibrosis has sparked an emotional debate over how the nation allocates lungs for transplantation.

Ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan is in intensive care at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia awaiting a lung transplant. Under the current rules, lungs from adults are offered to other adults and adolescents before being offered to children younger than 12.

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Shots - Health News
5:08 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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Shots - Health News
12:13 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Scientists Clone Human Embryos To Make Stem Cells

A scientist removes the nucleus from a human egg using a pipette. This is the first step to making personalized embryonic stem cells.
Courtesy of OHSU Photos

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 11:57 am

Scientists say they have, for the first time, cloned human embryos capable of producing embryonic stem cells.

The accomplishment is a long-sought step toward harnessing the potential power of embryonic stem cells to treat many human diseases. But the work also raises a host of ethical concerns.

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