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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.

Updated at 1:54 p.m.

A prescription painkiller that has been under a cloud for more than a decade is apparently safer than previously believed, a Food and Drug Administration panel concluded Wednesday.

There's more bad news about the nation's devastating opioid epidemic.

In just one year, overdoses from opioids jumped by about 30 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hopes were dashed this week that the United States was finally making progress in the fight against childhood obesity.

Contrary to previous reports, the epidemic of fat has not abated. In fact, there's been a big jump in obesity among the nation's youngest children, according to the latest analysis of federal data, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Shaorong Deng is sitting up in bed at the Hangzhou Cancer Hospital waiting for his doctor. Thin and frail, the 53-year-old construction worker's coat drapes around his shoulders to protect against the chilly air.

Deng has advanced cancer of the esophagus, a common form of cancer in China. He went through radiation and chemotherapy, but the cancer kept spreading.

A tobacco product that its maker claims to be safer than cigarettes won qualified support from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Thursday.

The advisers voted 8-1 to support cigarette giant Philip Morris' claim that its "iQOS" system "significantly reduces your body's exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals." The device heats tobacco but doesn't ignite it.

Chinese researchers have finally figured out how to clone a primate, using the same technique Scottish researchers devised to clone the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, in the mid-1990s.

The United States appears to be in the midst of an unusually severe flu season, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The flu season started early, which is never a good sign, and the flu is already widespread throughout the country, the CDC's latest report shows. Half of states are reporting especially intense flu activity.

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Life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, nudged down again by a surge in fatal opioid overdoses, federal officials report Thursday.

"I'm not prone to dramatic statements," says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. "But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it."

Scientists have now edited genes inside mice to prevent a form of inherited deafness.

While cautioning that much more research is needed, the scientists said they hope the technique might someday be used to prevent deafness in children born in families with a history of genetic hearing loss.

Before that could happen, however, extensive tests would be needed to determine whether the treatment is safe — and whether it would actually work in humans.

Editor's note, Jan. 17: Some identifying information has been removed from this report to guard the privacy of the family that is part of the probiotics test.

It's a typical hectic morning at Michele's house in Northern Virginia when she gets a knock on her front door.

Eli Wheatley and Christian Guardino are among a growing number of patients whose lives are apparently being saved or radically improved by gene therapy.

Wheatley, 3, of Lebanon, Ky., and Guardino, 17, of Patchogue, N.Y., were both diagnosed with what were long thought to be incurable genetic disorders. In the past, Wheatley's condition would have probably killed him before his first birthday. Guardino's would have blinded him early in life.

But after receiving experimental gene therapies, both seem to be doing fine.

Federal health officials Tuesday issued a warning about kratom, a herbal product being promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain that is also marketed for treating addiction, anxiety and depression.

The Food and Drug Administration says there's insufficient evidence the supplement works to treat addiction or other problems and cited growing evidence it can be dangerous. Kratom may cause seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.

It's a Sunday morning at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a famous African-American church in the Harlem area of New York City. The organist plays as hundreds of worshippers stream into the pews. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III steps to the pulpit.

"Now may we stand for our call to worship," says Butts, as he begins a powerful three-hour service filed with music, dancing, prayers and preaching. "How good and pleasant it is when all of God's children get together."

Gene therapy, which has had a roller-coaster history of high hopes and devastating disappointments, took an important step forward Thursday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee endorsed the first gene therapy for an inherited disorder — a rare condition that causes a progressive form of blindness that usually starts in childhood.

The recommendation came in a unanimous 16-0 vote after a daylong hearing that included emotional testimonials by doctors, parents of children blinded by the disease and from children and young adults helped by the treatment.

Himanshu Patel ran a convenience store in Georgia until about a year ago, when his liver failure got so bad he had to quit.

"I just couldn't stand up on my feet at all," says Patel, 39, of Waycross, Ga. "I just had to stop working."

Now, he's waiting anxiously to learn if his doctors have found a liver for him so he can undergo a transplant.

"They told me, 'You will need a liver transplant — without a liver transplant you might not survive,' " Patel says.

For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA in human embryos to make a fundamental discovery about the earliest days of human development.

By modifying a key gene in very early-stage embryos, the researchers demonstrated that a gene plays a crucial role in making sure embryos develop normally, the scientists say.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a "historic action" — the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States.

The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a "living drug" because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on "unscrupulous" clinics selling unproven and potentially dangerous treatments involving stem cells.

Hundreds of clinics around the country have started selling stem cell therapies that supposedly use stem cells but have not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA, according to the agency.

From the thirteenth floor of a glass tower at the Oregon Health & Science University, you get a panoramic view of downtown Portland and the majestic mountains in the distance. But it's what's happening inside the building that's brought me here.

"Should we go do this thing?" lab manager Amy Koski asks.

Scientists have been tinkering with the DNA in humans and other living things for decades. But one thing has long been considered off-limits: modifying human DNA in any way that could be passed down for generations.

A new kind of cancer treatment that uses genetically engineered cells from a patient's immune system to attack their cancer easily cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this "living drug" approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukemia. The agency doesn't have to follow the committee's recommendation but usually does.

The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Millions of Americans are addicted to the powerful prescription painkillers, and tens of thousands are dying each year from overdoses.

A new report out Thursday offers a bit of hope: Doctors are prescribing opioids less often, and the average dose they're giving patients has dropped, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Advances in technology have made it much easier, faster and less expensive to do whole genome sequencing — to spell out all three billion letters in a person's genetic code. Falling costs have given rise to speculation that it could soon become a routine part of medical care, perhaps as routine as checking your blood pressure.

But will such tests, which can be done for as little as $1,000, prove useful, or needlessly scary?

The use of electronic cigarettes by middle and high school students in the United States has dropped for the first time since the federal government started tracking the use of these products by young people.

The number of teenagers using e-cigarettes fell from 3 million in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2016, according to a report published Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Provocative new research suggests that fetuses have the ability to discern faces when they're still in the womb.

A study involving 34-week-old fetuses found they were more likely to focus on a pattern of lights that resembled a human face than on the same lights configured to look nothing like a face.

Scientists say they may have solved a big medical mystery: why mammograms don't save more lives.

A study involving thousands of breast cancer cases, released Wednesday, concludes that a significant proportion of tumors detected through mammography are not small because they are found early.

Instead, the tumors are small because they are biologically prone to slow growth.

Nursing homes and hospitals need to do more to protect their patients from catching Legionnaires' disease from contaminated water systems in their buildings, federal health officials warned Tuesday.

The list of things that can be created with 3-D printers keeps getting longer: jewelry, art, guns, food, medical devices and, now, mouse ovaries.

Scientists have used a 3-D printer to create a mouse ovary capable of producing healthy offspring. And researchers hope to create replacement human ovaries the same way someday.

There's more grim news about inequality in America.

New research documents significant disparities in the life spans of Americans depending on where they live. And those gaps appear to be widening, according to the research.

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