Rob Stein | KUOW News and Information

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.

Federal health officials may be about to get greatly enhanced powers to quarantine people, as part of an ongoing effort to stop outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases.

The new powers are outlined in a set of regulations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last month to update the agency's quarantine authority for the first time since the 1940s.

Scientists are reporting the results of controversial experiments that they say are encouraging them to continue to try to develop embryos that are part-human and part-animal.

For years, women have been told that regular mammograms can help reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by catching tumors at their earliest, most treatable stages.

But a Danish study is the latest research to challenge that assumption. Researchers followed thousands of women in Denmark over more than a decade and found that perhaps one-third of the abnormalities detected by mammograms may never cause health problems.

Doctors have long known that black people are more likely than white people to suffer from diseases such as high blood pressure. A study suggests that racial discrimination may be playing a role in a surprising way.

The study, which involved 150 African-Americans living in Tallahassee, Fla., found that knowing someone who had experienced racial discrimination was associated with genetic markers that may affect risk for high blood pressure.

It's a cold, damp fall day in London. But in a windowless basement laboratory, it feels like the tropics. It's hot and humid. That's to keep the mosquitoes happy.

"In this cage, we have the adult mosquitoes," says Andrew Hammond, a genetic engineer at Imperial College London, as he picks up a container made out of white mosquito netting.

The lab is buzzing with hundreds of mosquitoes. "Everything in this cubicle is genetically modified," Hammond says, pointing to the container of mosquitoes.

One big question about the Zika virus has been how big a risk the virus might pose in the United States.

Studies earlier this year suggested that birth defects and other problems were mainly limited to babies born in some parts of Brazil.

A study out Tuesday provides a sense of the effects on women who were exposed while pregnant in other countries and then came to the United States. About 6 percent of those pregnancies resulted in defects in the fetus or baby.

One of the fundamental ways scientists measure the well-being of a nation is tracking the rate at which its citizens die and how long they can be expected to live.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

The share of U.S. mothers who spank their young children or endorse physical discipline has declined significantly over the past two and a half decades, according to an analysis of four national surveys.

The findings, out Monday in the journal Pediatrics, came from an analysis of data from 1988 to 2011. Researcher found that 21 percent of median-income mothers of kindergarten-aged children endorsed physical discipline at the end of that period — down from 46 percent at the start.

For years, medical interns have been limited to working no more than 16 hours without a break to minimize the chances they would make mistakes while fatigued. But that restriction could soon be eased.

The group that sets the rules for medical residents proposed scrapping the 16-hour limit for interns, doctors in their first year of on-the-job training after finishing medical school. The new rule would let these new doctors work for as many as 28 hours at a stretch.

Human life spans have been increasing for decades thanks to advances in treating and preventing diseases and improved social conditions.

In fact, longevity has increased so much in recent decades that some researchers began to wonder: What is the upper limit on human aging?

Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries about "autophagy" — a fundamental process cells use to degrade and recycle parts of themselves.

Ohsumi, 71, is a professor emeritus at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan. As the sole winner, Ohsumi will receive more than $930,000.

Men who may have been exposed to the Zika virus should wait at least six months before trying to conceive a child with a partner, regardless of whether they ever had any symptoms, federal health officials are recommending.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously recommended that only men with Zika symptoms had to wait that long. Those who may have been exposed to Zika but never developed any symptoms were told to hold off on trying to conceive for just eight weeks.

Federal health officials are urging all Americans to get their flu shots as soon as possible, and are especially concerned that too few elderly people are getting vaccinated.

"Flu is serious. Flu is unpredictable," Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters during a joint briefing Thursday with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "Flu often does not get enough respect."

A doctor who treats infertility in New York City says he has helped a couple have the first baby purposefully created with DNA from three different adults.

John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in Manhattan traveled to Mexico earlier this year to perform a procedure for a couple from Jordan that enabled them to have the baby in May, according to a clinic spokesman.

A scientist in Sweden has started trying to edit the DNA in healthy human embryos, NPR has learned.

The step by the developmental biologist Fredrik Lanner makes him the first researcher known to attempt to modify the genes of healthy human embryos. That has long been considered taboo because of safety and ethical concerns.

Hundreds of clinics around the country are offering to treat a long list of health problems with stem cells.

The clinics claim that stem cells found in fat tissue, blood, bone marrow and even placentas can help people suffering from arthritic joints and torn tendons to more serious medical problems, including spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and strokes. Some even claim the cells can help children with autism.

But leading stem cell researchers say there's not enough evidence to support the clinics' claims.

Mosquitoes have begun spreading the Zika virus in a second part of Miami — the popular tourist destination of Miami Beach — Florida officials announced Friday.

When parents are trying to keep their children safe, one of the things many do is to transport their kids in a stroller or baby carrier.

While strollers and carriers are generally safe when used properly, a new study is a reminder that even these devices can be dangerous, especially when parents don't use them properly.

The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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/.

A handful of scientists around the United States are trying to do something that some people find disturbing: make embryos that are part human, part animal.

The researchers hope these embryos, known as chimeras, could eventually help save the lives of people with a wide range of diseases.

One way would be to use chimera embryos to create better animal models to study how human diseases happen and how they progress.

Perhaps the boldest hope is to create farm animals that have human organs that could be transplanted into terminally ill patients.

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

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