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.

How far should scientists be allowed to go in creating things that resemble primitive human brains, hearts, and even human embryos?

That's the question being asked by a group of Harvard scientists who are doing exactly that in their labs. They're using stem cells, genetics and other new biological engineering techniques to create tissues, primitive organs and other living structures that mimic parts of the human body.

Their concern is that they and others doing this type of "synthetic biology" research might be treading into disturbing territory.

Scientists have long hoped that stem cells might have the power to treat diseases. But it's always been clear that they could be dangerous too, especially if they're not used carefully.

Now a pair of papers published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine is underscoring both the promise and the peril of using stem cells for therapy.

Scientists have taken another important step toward creating different types of synthetic life in the laboratory.

An international research consortium reports Thursday that it has figured out an efficient method for synthesizing a substantial part of the genetic code of yeast.

"We are absolutely thrilled," says Jef Boeke, a geneticist at New York University School of Medicine, who is leading the project. "This is a significant step toward our goal."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Ali Brivanlou slides open a glass door at the Rockefeller University in New York to show off his latest experiments probing the mysteries of the human embryo.

"As you can see, all my lab is glass — just to make sure there is nothing that happens in some dark rooms that gives people some weird ideas," says Brivanlou, perhaps only half joking.

Brivanlou knows that some of his research makes some people uncomfortable. That's one reason he has agreed to give me a look at what's going on.

Scientists could be allowed to make modifications in human DNA that can be passed down through subsequent generations, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine say.

Such a groundbreaking step should only be considered after more research and then only be conducted under tight restrictions, the academies write in a highly anticipated report released Tuesday. Such work should be reserved to prevent serious diseases and disabilities, it says.

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.

The Trump administration has canceled the latest round of federally sponsored advertising and outreach aimed at encouraging people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The $5 million in ads was aimed at getting as many people as possible to sign up for insurance by the Jan. 31 deadline for open enrollment.

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.

The Obama administration has dropped a controversial proposal that would have required all federally funded scientists to get permission from patients before using their cells, blood, tissue or DNA for research.

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