Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

Harris has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis), and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

In 2010, Harris' reporting revealed that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. That revelation led the federal government to make a more realistic assessment of the extent of the spill.

Harris covered climate change for decades. He reported from the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and including Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. Harris was a major contributor to NPR's award-winning 2007-2008 "Climate Connections" series.

Over the course of his career, Harris has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Those include the American Geophysical Union's 2013 Presidential Citation for Science and Society. He shared the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and was a finalist again in 2011. In 2002, Harris was elected an honorary member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Harris shared a 1995 Peabody Award for investigative reporting on NPR about the tobacco industry. Since 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored Harris three times with its science journalism award.

Before joining NPR, Harris was a science writer for the San Francisco Examiner. From 1981 to 1983, Harris was a staff writer at The Tri-Valley Herald in Livermore, California, covering science, technology, and health issues related to the nuclear weapons lab in Livermore. He started his career as an AAAS Mass Media Science Fellow at the now-defunct Washington Star in DC.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, DC, Area Science Writers Association, and is past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He serves on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

Harris' book Rigor Mortis was published in 2017. The book covers the biomedicine "reproducibility crisis" — many studies can't be reproduced in other labs, often due to lack of rigor, hence the book's title. Rigor Mortis was a finalist for the 2018 National Academy of Sciences/Keck Communication Award.

A California native, Harris returned to the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2012, to give a commencement address at Crown College, where he had given a valedictory address at his own graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree at the school in biology, with highest honors.

Scientists are gearing up a major study to find out whether a drug can silence the gene that causes a devastating illness called Huntington's disease.

This development follows the discovery that the experimental drug reduced levels of the damaged protein that causes this mind-robbing ailment. The new study will determine whether that drug can also stop progression of the disease.

It is also another sign that drugs built with DNA, or its cellular collaborator RNA, can be powerful tools for tempering diseases that until now have seemed out of reach.

Sometimes rare diseases can let scientists pioneer bold new ideas. That has been the case with a condition that strikes fewer than 100 babies a year in the United States. These infants are born without a functioning immune system.

Donated organs from people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus can be safely transplanted, according to the latest in a line of studies that are building a case for using these organs.

Typically, these organs have been discarded because of concerns about spreading the viral infection. But a study of heart and lung transplants published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine finds that new antiviral drugs are so effective that the recipients can be protected from infection.

Smokers who switched to e-cigarettes were much more likely to quit than people who used nicotine patches, gum or similar products, according to a large study.

The bad news: People who successfully quit tobacco were often hooked on e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are considered far less hazardous than the ones you light up. Still, American health officials worry about their addictive nature and lure for young people. But British health officials tend to look more favorably upon them.

Dr. Jonathan Sevransky was intrigued when he heard that a well-known physician in Virginia had reported remarkable results from a simple treatment for sepsis. Could the leading cause of death in hospitals really be treated with intravenous vitamin C, the vitamin thiamine and doses of steroids?

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The youngest children in a school class are most likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, when in fact their comparatively fidgety behavior may be due to their relative immaturity, according to a study published online Wednesday.

Researchers expect that three dozen new drugs will come on the market over the next few years with astronomical prices — some likely topping a million dollars per patient.

The drugmaker Novartis has told investors it might be able to charge $4 million to $5 million for one of its potential products, a treatment for a rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy.

A treatment for early stage cervical cancer that has rapidly gained acceptance in the United States turns out to be worse than standard surgery, according to two studies.

The practice, now thrown into question, is called minimally invasive surgery. Instruments are threaded through small incisions, and surgeons use those to remove a diseased uterus. This technique has been growing in popularity since 2006 and has been widely adopted.

If you are one of the 5.7 million Americans who ends up in the intensive care unit each year, you are at high risk of developing long-term mental effects like dementia and confusion. These mental problems can be as pronounced as those experienced by people with Alzheimer's disease or a traumatic brain injury and many patients never fully recover.

Doctors have gradually come to realize that people who survive a serious brush with death in the intensive care unit are likely to develop potentially serious problems with their memory and thinking processes.

This dementia, a side effect of intensive medical care, can be permanent. And it affects as many as half of all people who are rushed to the ICU after a medical emergency. Considering that 5.7 million Americans end up in intensive care every year, this is a major problem that until recently, has been poorly appreciated by medical caregivers.

Here's a bold idea to fight back against bacteria that can't be stopped by antibiotics: Go after them with germ-eating microbes. That reasoning lies behind an intriguing line of research that might also be put to use in the event of a germ-warfare attack.

For the fourth year in a row, federal health officials report that there has been a sharp increase in sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017 — an increase of 200,000 cases over the previous year, and a record high.

A consumer advocacy organization is asking federal health officials Tuesday to halt a large medical study being conducted at major universities nationwide.

Public Citizen says that the study, involving treatment for sepsis, puts patients at risk and will at best produce confusing results.

Healthy women with normal pregnancies can opt to have labor induced without worrying that the decision will make a cesarean section more likely, according to a major study published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

When you go to your doctor's office, sometimes it seems the caregivers spend more time gathering data about you than treating you as a patient.

Electronic medical records are everywhere – annoying to doctors and intrusive to patients.

But now researchers are looking to see if they can plow through the vast amount of data that's gathered in those records, along with insurance billing information, to tease out the bits that could be useful in refining treatments and identifying new uses for drugs.

Most drugs have side effects, but sometimes they're actually good news.

Researchers are now exploring whether some cheap and common drugs have side effects that could help people fight off the flu and other lung infections.

For many years, the death rate from cancer climbed steadily, and the focus of big cancer meetings was the quest for better treatments to bring malignancies under control. Cancer death rates have been falling in recent decades, and that's allowed researchers to ask another important question: Are some people getting too much treatment for their cancers?

The answer, from the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago these past few days, is an emphatic yes.

Updated 12:43 p.m. ET

Perhaps 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico in 2017 for reasons related to September's Hurricane Maria, according to a study that dismisses the official death toll of 64 as "a substantial underestimate."

A research team led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health didn't simply attempt to count dead bodies in the wake of the powerful storm. Instead, they surveyed randomly chosen households and asked the occupants about their experiences.

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A team of surgeons says it has repaired the genitals of a serviceman severely injured by an explosion in Afghanistan. It's the first time a penis has been transplanted to treat a war wound.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore say 11 surgeons were involved in the 14-hour surgery in March.

There's encouraging news for cancer treatments that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. A widely used immunotherapy drug appears to be useful in a greater number of patients with lung cancer.

The drug called Keytruda, or pembrolizumab, is already prescribed to a group of patients who have a type of malignancy called non-small cell lung cancer. It's the principal form of lung cancer and found most commonly in people who have smoked.

Medical marijuana appears to have put a dent in the opioid abuse epidemic, according to two studies published Monday.

The research suggests that some people turn to marijuana as a way to treat their pain, and by so doing, avoid more dangerous addictive drugs. The findings are the latest to lend support to the idea that some people are willing to substitute marijuana for opioids and other prescription drugs.

Michael Robertson was on his summer vacation a few years ago and had just proposed to the woman who would become his wife when he decided he needed to see a doctor.

"I'd been having symptoms for a few months but it was during an intense work period, drinking too much coffee, not getting enough sleep, so I kind of chalked it up to that," Robertson says. Unfortunately, the doctor had a more dire diagnosis: stage 4 rectal cancer.

A major medical association today suggested that doctors who treat people with Type 2 diabetes can set less aggressive blood sugar targets. But medical groups that specialize in diabetes sharply disagree.

Half a dozen medical groups have looked carefully at the best treatment guidelines for the 29 million Americans who have Type 2 diabetes and have come up with somewhat differing guidelines.

The astronomer Carl Sagan said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Last week, a physician made the extraordinary claim that he had an effective treatment for sepsis, sometimes known as blood poisoning.

Sepsis is a bodywide inflammation, usually triggered by infection, and the leading cause of death in hospitals, taking 300,000 lives a year. So, even a 15 percent improvement in survival would save 40,000 lives — the number of Americans who die on the highway each year, or from breast cancer.

Studies of fish oil and health are like studies about coffee — there's plenty of contradictory information out there.

With that in mind, here's the latest turn: A Danish study finds that women who took fish oil supplements during pregnancy reduced the risk of asthma in their children.

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A major study about the best way to treat early-stage breast cancer reveals that "precision medicine" doesn't provide unambiguous answers about how to choose the best therapy.

"Precision doesn't mean certainty," says David Hunter, a professor of cancer prevention at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

That point is illustrated in a large study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, involving decisions about chemotherapy.

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