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.

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The composition of the microbes living in babies' guts appears to play a role in whether the children develop asthma later on, researchers reported Wednesday.

The researchers sampled the microbes living in the digestive tracts of 319 babies, and followed up on the children to see if there was a relationship between their microbes and their risk for the breathing disorder.

The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation's sleek marble building is on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. After passing through a guarded gate, visitors climb the steps to the entrance and a big door with tinted glass slides open.

"Hello, sir. Nice to meet you, sir," says David Kim, a researcher at the laboratory. "You can follow me. We can go into the clean room. It's the laboratory where we do the procedures — the cloning."

It's a typical morning at the Dupont Veterinary Clinic in Lafayette, La. Dr. Phillip Dupont is caring for cats and dogs in the examining room while his wife, Paula, answers the phone and pet owners' questions. Their two dogs are sleeping on the floor behind her desk.

"That's Ken and Henry," Paula says, pointing to the slim, midsize dogs with floppy ears and long snouts. Both dogs are tan, gray and white, with similar markings. "I put a red collar on Ken and a black collar on Henry so I can tell who's who."

Larry Goldstein is trying to find drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease. A biologist in cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego, Goldstein also just started testing something he hopes will enable paralyzed people to walk again.

For both lines of research, he's using cells from aborted fetuses.

"The fetal cells are vital at this time because, to our knowledge, they have the best properties for the kinds of experiments that we need to do," Goldstein says.

The Food and Drug Administration should gather more information to try to get a better sense of the safety of the Essure sterilization device, a panel of experts assembled by the agency recommended Thursday.

"To be honest, we don't know what we don't know," said Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia of the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, who chaired the FDA's Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices Panel, summarizing frustration expressed by several members.

Remember Pig-Pen? The little kid from Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons who walked around in a cloud of dirt? Well, the human body does spew a cloud, but instead of dirt it contains millions of microorganisms.

"It turns out that that kid is all of us," says James Meadow, a microbial ecologist who led research about the microbes shadowing us during postdoctoral work at the University of Oregon. "It's just a microscopic cloud that's really hard to see."

After their third son was born, Tisha Scott and her husband decided they were done having kids. So Scott, 34, of Drakesville, Iowa, decided to get her tubes tied.

"As old married people, neither of us was really interested in using condoms for the rest of our life," Scott says. "So that was the decision that we made because we knew that our family was complete."

British scientists announced Friday that they had applied for permission to edit the DNA in human embryos, a controversial step that has provoked intense debate around the world.

Kathy Niakan of The Francis Crick Institute in London and colleagues filed an application with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates experiments involving human embryos in England.

Last year's flu vaccine didn't work very well. This year's version should do a much better job protecting people against the flu, federal health officials said Thursday.

An analysis of the most common strains of flu virus that are circulating in the United States and elsewhere found they match the strains included in this year's vaccine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered a major tobacco company to stop selling several types of cigarettes.

The FDA on Tuesday ordered the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to stop selling four products: Camel Bold Crush, Vantage Tech 13 and the regular and menthol versions of Pall Mall Deep Set Recessed Filter cigarettes.

Cutting blood pressure below the currently recommended target can significantly reduce the rate of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and deaths, federal health officials reported Friday.

The findings come from the largest study ever conducted to examine whether reducing systolic blood pressure — the top number patients get when examined — below the currently recommended goal would be beneficial.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday ordered three tobacco companies to stop claiming their cigarettes are "additive-free" or "natural."

The agency said those claims could mislead smokers into thinking those cigarettes are safer than others.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



The Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug designed to increase a woman's libido.

The controversial decision was hailed by some doctors and advocates as a long-sought victory for women's health, but was condemned by others as irresponsible and dangerous.

The assortment of microbes in a pregnant woman's vagina appears to play a role in her chances of giving birth prematurely, new research suggests.

The study of 49 pregnant women, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that those who had a diverse array of microbes were more likely to give birth prematurely.

Kevin Lopez remembers exactly when he knew he wasn't like his friends and family.

"It just hit me one day," he says. It was the morning he was picking out a shirt to wear for his first day of sixth grade. "I just looked at myself and I realized I was different."

Kevin was born missing the fingers on his right hand. His arm and wrist are fully developed, and he has most of a regular palm. But he just has nubs where his fingers should start.

Update 4:40 p.m.: The panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted 18 to 6 to recommend that the agency approve flibanserin, as long as there are measures in place to make sure that women are aware of its risks, including low blood pressure and fainting. The FDA doesn't have to follow the recommendations of its advisory panels but usually does.

A committee of medical advisers meets Thursday to consider whether to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration approve the first drug that aims to boost a woman's libido.

The seasons appear to influence when certain genes are active, with those associated with inflammation being more active in the winter, according to new research released Tuesday.

Here's something that might sound strange: There are companies now that print and sell DNA.

This trend — which uses the term "print" in the sense of making a bunch of copies speedily — is making particular stretches of DNA much cheaper and easier to obtain than ever before. That excites many scientists who are keen to use these tailored strings of genetic instructions to do all sorts of things, ranging from finding new medical treatments to genetically engineering better crops.

Federal health officials Monday changed the recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time since 1962, cutting by almost half the maximum amount of fluoride that should be added to drinking supplies.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommended 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water instead of the long-standing range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams.

For the first time, scientists have edited DNA in human embryos, a highly controversial step long considered off limits.

Junjiu Huang and his colleagues at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, performed a series of experiments involving 86 human embryos to see if they could make changes in a gene known as HBB, which causes the sometimes fatal blood disorder beta-thalassemia.

A study that asked a few dozen pairs of twins to brave a swarm of hungry mosquitoes has revealed another clue to the cluster of reasons the insects are more attracted to some people than others: Genes matter.

A new California company announced Monday it is offering a much cheaper and easier way for women to get tested for genetic mutations that increase their risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Color Genomics of Burlingame, Calif., has begun selling a $249 test that it says can accurately analyze a saliva sample for mutations in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as check for 17 other genetic variants that have been associated with a somewhat increased risk for cancer of the breast or ovaries.

It's another busy morning at Dr. Anthony Aurigemma's homeopathy practice in Bethesda, Md.

Wendy Resnick, 58, is here because she's suffering from a nasty bout of laryngitis. "I don't feel great," she says. "I don't feel myself."

Resnick, who lives in Millersville, Md., has been seeing Aurigemma for years for a variety of health problems, including ankle and knee injuries and back problems. "I don't know what I would do without him," she says. "The traditional treatments just weren't helping me at all."

A national survey confirms earlier indications that e-cigarettes are now more popular among teenage students than traditional cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The findings prompted strong warnings from Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the effects of any form of nicotine on young people.

"We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age," Frieden said.

Why Knuckles Crack

Apr 15, 2015

Scientists think they may have solved an old question about the cracking of knuckles: Why does it make that sound?

When Kevin Lopez opens the door to his Greenbelt, Md., apartment to greet a visitor he's never before met, he initially conceals his right hand.

"I'm self-conscious, definitely, about my right hand," he says. But eventually Lopez relaxes.

"I was born like this," he says. "As you can see, I don't have any fingers." It bothers the 20-year-old enough that he has volunteered to do something drastic: to have his right hand removed and replaced with another person's hand via surgery.

The Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to allow a tobacco company to do something it's never done before — claim that one of its products is less risky than cigarettes.

The company, Swedish Match of Stockholm, has applied to the FDA to designate its General brand of snus (rhymes with "loose") as safer than other versions of tobacco.