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 Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that all fast-acting opioid pain medicines will be required to carry its strongest warning about risks, including the risks for abuse, addiction, overdose and death.

There's something different about the way these babies cry.

That's a realization that hit me after spending day after day with babies in Brazil who were born to mothers who were infected with the Zika virus when they were pregnant.

It's not just that they cry more easily, and longer — which they do. There's also something strange — harsher and more pained — about the cries of many of these babies.

The Zika virus has sparked international alarm largely because of fears that the pathogen is causing microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and damaged brains.

But the preliminary results of a study released Friday suggest Zika can also cause other potentially grave complications for fetuses carried by women who get infected while they are pregnant.

Every morning since I arrived in Brazil to cover the Zika outbreak, the first thing I do is douse myself with insect repellent before venturing outside.

I know the chances I'll catch Zika are pretty low, and the disease tends to be relatively mild for most healthy adult males. But with all the alarm about the virus, it's hard not to start to get a little paranoid about catching Zika from a mosquito.

It's the first thing in the morning at a crowded public health clinic in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, when a team of disease detectives from the United States and Brazil arrive.

They are searching for new mothers in the hope of solving one of the world's most urgent public health mysteries: Is the Zika virus really causing microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with shrunken heads and badly damaged brains?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A team of U.S. government disease detectives launched an eagerly anticipated research project in Brazil on Monday designed to determine whether the Zika virus is really causing a surge of serious birth defects.

A 16-member team of epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began training dozens of Brazilian counterparts in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, in preparation to begin work on Tuesday. The researchers will gather data on hundreds of Brazilian women and their children.

When Marcella Lafayette started having really bad heartburn, she went to her doctor to see if there was anything that might help.

"I was experiencing a lot of chest pain, back pain caused from heartburn," says Lafayette, 62, of Portland, Ore.

U.S. health experts cautioned Friday that the apparent discovery of the Zika virus in saliva and urine from people in Brazil does not necessarily mean the virus can be spread by more casual contact with infected people, such as through kissing.

"I think we need to be careful that don't we jump to any conclusions about transmissibility," Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on NPR's Morning Edition.

Editor's note: This post was updated Feb. 3, 2016, at 12:25 pm to include a statement from the Food and Drug Administration and a comment from Mark Sauer.

Would it be ethical for scientists to try to create babies that have genetic material from three different people? An influential panel of experts has concluded the answer could be yes.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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For the first time, the government is allowing scientists to edit the DNA inside human embryos. As NPR's health correspondent, Rob Stein, reports, that's extremely controversial.

Babies get a lot from their mothers. But babies born by cesarean section don't pass through the birth canal and miss out on the benefits from picking up Mom's microbes on the way out.

Researchers studying the human microbiome have asked: Could there be a way to fix that? If so, it might help restore the microbes a baby naturally gets that help fight off disease and foster normal development.

When Elizabeth Estes's dog, Ollie, started coughing last year, she didn't think he was seriously ill at first. But then the 3-year-old Jack Russell-chihuahua mix got much worse.

"All of a sudden, he couldn't breathe and he was coughing. It was so brutal," says Estes, who lives in Chicago. "The dog couldn't breathe. I mean, could not breathe — just kept coughing and coughing and coughing and gasping for air."

A human study of Zika virus vaccine could begin as early as this year, U.S. health officials told reporters Thursday.

But the officials cautioned that it could be years before the vaccine is available for wide use.

The news came as the Zika virus continues to spread through the Americas. Still, a large outbreak is seen as unlikely in the U.S.

The outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil and other countries has raised concern that the pathogen could start spreading widely in the United States, as well. But federal health officials and other infectious disease specialists say so far that seems unlikely.

People who take certain popular medicines for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux may want to proceed more cautiously, researchers reported Monday.

The drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), appear to significantly elevate the chances of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study involving more than 250,000 people.

Many people have Neanderthal genes in their DNA that predispose them to allergies, two studies published Thursday have found.

"So I suppose that some of us can blame Neanderthals for our susceptibility to common allergies, like hay fever," says Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led one of the teams.

How safe is it in the United States to be born someplace other than a hospital? The question has long been the focus of emotional debate and conflicting information. Now, Oregon scientists and health workers who deliver babies have some research evidence that sheds a bit more light.

Are hospitals doing everything they should to make sure they don't make mistakes when declaring patients brain-dead? A provocative study finds that hospital policies for determining brain death are surprisingly inconsistent and that many have failed to fully implement guidelines designed to minimize errors.

There's finally some good news about childhood asthma in the United States: After rising for decades, the number of children with the breathing disorder has finally stopped increasing and may have started falling, according to a government analysis.

"That was a big surprise," says Lara Akinbami of the National Center for Health Statistics. "We were expecting the increase to kind of continue. But in fact we saw the opposite."

The Food and Drug Administration is relaxing a 32-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

The FDA announced Monday that it was replacing a lifetime prohibition with a new policy that will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they have not had sexual contact with another man for at least one year.

Medical advisers to the Food and Drug Administration say that prescription drugs containing codeine should not be used to treat children or the majority of teens suffering from pain or a cough.

In their meeting Thursday, the advisers also voted overwhelmingly against the over-the-counter sales of codeine-containing cough syrup for children. Selling such products without a prescription is currently permitted in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

When police investigate suspicious deaths, one of the key questions is: When did the victim die?

A study published Thursday in Science may lead forensics experts and detectives to a more precise answer in the future.

Researchers studying the microbes on decomposing bodies have found that the mix of bacteria and other organisms on dead bodies changes over time in a clear pattern.

Since 2003, strict rules have limited how long medical residents can work without a break. The rules are supposed to minimize the risk that these doctors-in-training will make mistakes that threaten patients' safety because of fatigue.

But are these rules really the best for new doctors and their patients? There's been intense debate over that and some say little data to resolve the question.

So a group of researchers decided to follow thousands of medical residents at dozens of hospitals around the country.

Global warming isn't the only vexing issue the world wrestled with this week.

While delegates gathered in Paris to discuss climate change, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing convened in Washington, D.C., to debate another conundrum: How far should scientists go when editing human DNA?

Throughout history, atrocities have been committed in the name of medical research.

Nazi doctors experimented on concentration camp prisoners. American doctors let poor black men with syphilis go untreated in the Tuskegee study. The list goes on.

One of the most intense debates in men's health has flared again: How often should men get screened for prostate cancer?

This debate has simmered since 2012, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force shocked many patients and doctors by recommending against routine prostate cancer screening.

An intense debate has flared over whether the federal government should fund research that creates partly human creatures using human stem cells.

Biologist Ethan Bier runs a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego where fruit flies are used to help unravel the processes that lead to some human diseases. One day recently, a graduate student in the lab called him over to take a look at the results of the latest experiment.

Bier was stunned by what he saw. "It was one of the most astounding days in my personal scientific career," Bier says. "When he first showed me, I could not believe it."

A decades-long decline in the death rate of middle-aged white Americans has reversed in recent years, according to a surprising new analysis released Monday.

The cause of the reversal remains unclear. Researchers speculate it might be the result of the bad economy fueling a rise in suicides, plus overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin, and alcohol abuse.

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