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.

Gene therapy is showing promise for treating one of the most common genetic disorders.

Results of a study published Wednesday show that 15 of 22 patients with beta-thalassemia who got gene therapy were able to stop or sharply reduce the regular blood transfusions they had needed to alleviate their life-threatening anemia. There were no serious side effects.

In E.B. White's classic children's story Stuart Little, the eponymous mouse lives happily with a New York City family.

But Dr. Ian Lipkin wanted to know whether cohabiting with a mouse may be hazardous to one's health.

So Lipkin and his colleagues at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health spent a year collecting mice from throughout New York City to see whether they carry any dangerous germs.

Losing your nest egg is apparently hazardous to your health — very hazardous.

An analysis involving more than 8,000 Americans found that those who suffered a "negative wealth shock" — defined as losing at least 75 percent of their wealth in two years — faced a 50 percent increased risk of dying over the next two decades.

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it wants to sharply reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. The idea is to help wean millions of smokers off their deadly habit and prevent millions more from becoming regular smokers in the first place.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first test that Americans can get without a doctor to see if they are carrying genetic mutations that increase their risk for cancer. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has details.

There's more bad news about the nation's devastating opioid epidemic.

In just one year, overdoses from opioids jumped by about 30 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hopes were dashed this week that the United States was finally making progress in the fight against childhood obesity.

Contrary to previous reports, the epidemic of fat has not abated. In fact, there's been a big jump in obesity among the nation's youngest children, according to the latest analysis of federal data, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Shaorong Deng is sitting up in bed at the Hangzhou Cancer Hospital waiting for his doctor. Thin and frail, the 53-year-old construction worker's coat drapes around his shoulders to protect against the chilly air.

Deng has advanced cancer of the esophagus, a common form of cancer in China. He went through radiation and chemotherapy, but the cancer kept spreading.

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This year's nasty flu season has become deadly. The virus has spread across the country and shows few signs of slowing down. It's even getting worse in a lot of places. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us. Rob, thanks so much for being with us.

A tobacco product that its maker claims to be safer than cigarettes won qualified support from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Thursday.

The advisers voted 8-1 to support cigarette giant Philip Morris' claim that its "iQOS" system "significantly reduces your body's exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals." The device heats tobacco but doesn't ignite it.

Chinese researchers have finally figured out how to clone a primate, using the same technique Scottish researchers devised to clone the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, in the mid-1990s.

The United States appears to be in the midst of an unusually severe flu season, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The flu season started early, which is never a good sign, and the flu is already widespread throughout the country, the CDC's latest report shows. Half of states are reporting especially intense flu activity.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, nudged down again by a surge in fatal opioid overdoses, federal officials report Thursday.

"I'm not prone to dramatic statements," says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. "But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it."

Scientists have now edited genes inside mice to prevent a form of inherited deafness.

While cautioning that much more research is needed, the scientists said they hope the technique might someday be used to prevent deafness in children born in families with a history of genetic hearing loss.

Before that could happen, however, extensive tests would be needed to determine whether the treatment is safe — and whether it would actually work in humans.

The Food and Drug Administration Tuesday approved the first gene therapy to treat an inherited disease.

The treatment is called Luxturna, a genetically modified virus that ferries a healthy gene into the eyes of patients born with retinal dystrophy, a rare condition that destroys cells in the retina needed for healthy vision.

Updated at 4:17 p.m. ET to include comment from homeopathic pharmacists.

The Food and Drug Administration said it plans to crack down on the sale of some homeopathic products.

The agency unveiled a new, risk-based approach to regulating homeopathic treatments Monday that aims to protect the public from dangerous products.

Editor's note, Jan. 17: Some identifying information has been removed from this report to guard the privacy of the family that is part of the probiotics test.

It's a typical hectic morning at Michele's house in Northern Virginia when she gets a knock on her front door.

Health officials are warning that the United States may have an unusually harsh flu season this year.

But they stress that flu seasons are notoriously difficult to predict, and it's far too early to know for sure what may happen.

Eli Wheatley and Christian Guardino are among a growing number of patients whose lives are apparently being saved or radically improved by gene therapy.

Wheatley, 3, of Lebanon, Ky., and Guardino, 17, of Patchogue, N.Y., were both diagnosed with what were long thought to be incurable genetic disorders. In the past, Wheatley's condition would have probably killed him before his first birthday. Guardino's would have blinded him early in life.

But after receiving experimental gene therapies, both seem to be doing fine.

Federal health officials Tuesday issued a warning about kratom, a herbal product being promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain that is also marketed for treating addiction, anxiety and depression.

The Food and Drug Administration says there's insufficient evidence the supplement works to treat addiction or other problems and cited growing evidence it can be dangerous. Kratom may cause seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.

It's a Sunday morning at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a famous African-American church in the Harlem area of New York City. The organist plays as hundreds of worshippers stream into the pews. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III steps to the pulpit.

"Now may we stand for our call to worship," says Butts, as he begins a powerful three-hour service filed with music, dancing, prayers and preaching. "How good and pleasant it is when all of God's children get together."

Here's something that may sound like a contradiction in terms: low-fat pigs.

But that's exactly what Chinese scientists have created using new genetic engineering techniques.

In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report that they have created 12 healthy pigs with about 24 percent less body fat than normal pigs.

Gene therapy, which has had a roller-coaster history of high hopes and devastating disappointments, took an important step forward Thursday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee endorsed the first gene therapy for an inherited disorder — a rare condition that causes a progressive form of blindness that usually starts in childhood.

The recommendation came in a unanimous 16-0 vote after a daylong hearing that included emotional testimonials by doctors, parents of children blinded by the disease and from children and young adults helped by the treatment.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded today to three American scientists for their discoveries about how our internal clocks work. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.

Himanshu Patel ran a convenience store in Georgia until about a year ago, when his liver failure got so bad he had to quit.

"I just couldn't stand up on my feet at all," says Patel, 39, of Waycross, Ga. "I just had to stop working."

Now, he's waiting anxiously to learn if his doctors have found a liver for him so he can undergo a transplant.

"They told me, 'You will need a liver transplant — without a liver transplant you might not survive,' " Patel says.

For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA in human embryos to make a fundamental discovery about the earliest days of human development.

By modifying a key gene in very early-stage embryos, the researchers demonstrated that a gene plays a crucial role in making sure embryos develop normally, the scientists say.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a "historic action" — the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States.

The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a "living drug" because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on "unscrupulous" clinics selling unproven and potentially dangerous treatments involving stem cells.

Hundreds of clinics around the country have started selling stem cell therapies that supposedly use stem cells but have not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA, according to the agency.

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.

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