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 today took another step toward restricting use of OxyContin and other powerful and often-abused prescription pain medications.

Billie Iverson may be getting up there, but for an 86-year-old, she's still plenty active.

"I take trips, and I go do my own shopping, and I take myself to the doctor," Iverson says. "I do everything. I don't let anything stop me."

But one day, she got hit with something she'd never experienced — the worst case of the runs ever.

For days at a time, off and on for weeks, the problem kept coming back. Iverson eventually got so weak, she ended up in a nursing home.

"I just thought maybe I wasn't going to make it," she says. "I thought I was going to die."

Look in the mirror and you won't see your microbiome. But it's there with you from the day you are born. Over time, those bacteria, viruses and fungi multiply until they outnumber your own cells 10 to 1.

As babies, the microbes may teach our immune systems how to fight off bad bugs that make us sick and ignore things that aren't a threat.

We get our first dose of microbes from our mothers, both in the birth canal and in breast milk. Family members tend to have similar microbiomes.

The evidence just keeps mounting that the microbes in our digestive systems are a factor in the obesity epidemic.

The percentage of middle and high school students who have tried electronic cigarettes more than doubled in a year, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The percentage of students in grades 6 through 12 who had ever used e-cigarettes increased from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Those who reported currently using the devices increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent.

Scientists have discovered new clues about how microbes in our digestive systems may affect health.

European researchers found that the less diverse those microbes are, the more likely people are to gain weight, become obese and develop risk factors for serious health problems.

Evidence has been mounting in recent years that bacteria and other organisms in our bodies do a lot more than just help us digest food.

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.

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.

Most of the microbes in our guts appear to remain stable for years, perhaps even most of our lives, researchers reported Thursday.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

That word "microbiome" — describing the collection of bacteria that live in and on our bodies — keeps popping up. This time, researchers say that children whose parents clean their pacifiers by sucking them might be less likely to develop allergic conditions because of how their parents' saliva changes their microbiomes.

Scientists have discovered what may be an important new risk factor for heart disease. And here's the surprising twist: The troublesome substance seems to be a waste product left behind by bacteria in our guts as they help us digest lecithin — a substance plentiful in red meat, eggs, liver and certain other foods.

Doctors say the research further illustrates the complicated relationship we have with the microbes living inside us, and could lead to new ways to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Scientists reported Wednesday that they had developed a way to measure how much pain people are experiencing by scanning their brains.

The researchers hope the technique will help doctors treat pain better, but the work is also raising concerns about whether the technique might interfere with doctors simply listening to their patients.

Now, when someone is in pain, a doctor has no way to judge its severity except to ask questions, a method that often is inadequate.

Scientists say they have found a way to get a glimpse of people's dreams.

"Our results show that we can predict what a person's seeing during dreams," says Yukiyasu Kamitani, a researcher at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan.

Philosophers, poets and psychologists have long shared a fascination with dreams. But Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley says solving the mystery of our dreams is one tough problem.

More than 1 million people are dying prematurely every year from air pollution in China, according to a new analysis.

"This is the highest toll in the world and it really reflects the very high levels of air pollution that exist in China today," says Robert O'Keefe of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, who presented the findings in Beijing this week.

A controversial government proposal to test the anthrax vaccine in children would be unethical without first conducting much more research, a presidential commission concluded Tuesday.

"The federal government would have to take multiple steps before anthrax vaccine trials with children could be ethically considered," Amy Gutmann, who chairs the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, tells Shots. "It would not be ethical to do it today."

U.S. drivers are much more likely than Europeans to drive while distracted, federal health officials report Thursday.

Nearly 69 percent of Americans who drive say that they talked on their cell phones while driving at least once in the previous month, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's a lot higher than what was reported by Europeans in another survey. Only 21 percent of British drivers reported chatting on their cell phones while behind the wheel, for example. In Germany and France it was about 40 percent.

Federal officials warned Tuesday that an especially dangerous group of superbugs has become a significant health problem in hospitals throughout the United States.

These germs, known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, have become much more common in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the risk they pose to health is becoming evident.

Hoping to reduce unnecessary antibiotics use, the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday issued new guidelines for how doctors should diagnose and treat ear infections.

This year's flu vaccine appears to be doing a unusually poor job of protecting the elderly, federal health officials reported Thursday.

Overall, this year's flu vaccine appears to be only about 27 percent effective for people ages 65 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Pages