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.

Health officials are investigating a Zika virus infection in Florida that could be the first case in which someone caught the virus by being bitten by a mosquito in the United States.

In a statement posted on its website Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health says the "possible non-travel related case of Zika" occurred in Miami-Dade County.

When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started getting worried about whether she'd ever have a baby. So she took a test that aims to measure a woman's fertility.

The results terrified her. They indicated she had the fertility of a woman a decade older — a woman in her mid-40s.

"I was devastated," Gardner says. The news hit her especially hard because she was in the midst of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend.

It's been thought that the Zika virus spreads only through mosquito bites or sexual contact. But someone in Utah appears to have caught Zika another way — while caring for an elderly family member infected with the virus.

"The new case in Utah is a surprise, showing that we still have more to learn about Zika," Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported Monday.

Doctors have known for some time that a man can spread the Zika virus to a woman through sex. Now officials have documented the first case in which a woman apparently infected a man through unprotected sexual intercourse.

The case occurred in New York City when a woman in her 20s returned from a trip to a country where Zika is spreading, according to a report released Friday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A powerful new technique for changing genes in insects, animals and plants holds great promise, according to a report from an influential panel of scientists released Wednesday. But the group also says it's potentially very dangerous.

A group of scientists say they want work toward being able to create a synthetic version of the entire human genetic code in the laboratory.

Their hope is that a complete set of synthetic human DNA, known as a genome, could someday lead to important medical breakthroughs.

Lindsey McFarland was born without a uterus. So she and her husband, Blake, created their family by adopting three boys. But they always dreamed that she could somehow become pregnant and give birth to a baby.

"We just wanted that experience," Lindsey says. "We wanted that connection."

She longed to feel a baby kick and develop inside her. She wanted the thrill of discovering the sex of the fetus during a routine sonogram. She even wanted to go through morning sickness and labor.

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

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

Scientists have been able to make and study human embryos in their labs for decades. But they have never been able to keep them alive outside a woman's womb for more than about a week.

That limitation meant scientists were unable to conduct a range of detailed research into early human development.

But now researchers say they have discovered a way to keep human embryos alive in the laboratory about a week longer than ever before, and through a critical period of development.

It's just before dawn in Piracicaba, a small city in southeastern Brazil, when a large white van pulls over to the side of the road. A door slides open, revealing stacks of crates jammed with plastic pots. Each pot is buzzing with mosquitoes.

"There's about 1,000 mosquitoes in each of those pots," says Guilherme Trivellato, who works for Oxitec, a biotech company that owns the van. All together, there are more than 300,000 mosquitoes swarming inside those pots.

"That's how many we're going to release today," he says.

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?

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/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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.

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.

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