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 (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., 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.

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.

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Goats and Soda
3:45 pm
Mon February 2, 2015

Lack Of Patients Hampers Ebola Drug And Vaccine Testing

A nurse administers an experimental Ebola vaccine Monday at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Researchers aim to give shots to 27,000 people during the large trial.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 10:39 am

On Monday, the first 12 volunteers received an experimental Ebola vaccine in Liberia, launching vaccine trials there. Over the next year or so, scientists hope to inject 27,000 volunteers. The goal is to test two different shots that could protect people from the deadly disease.

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Shots - Health News
12:23 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

Obama Wants Funding For Research On More Precise Health Care

Harvard University student Elana Simon introduces President Obama before he spoke at the White House Friday about an initiative to encourage research into more precise medicine.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

You may soon be able to donate your personal data to science. There are plans afoot to find 1 million Americans to volunteer for a new Precision Medicine Initiative that would anonymously link medical records, genetic readouts, details about an individual's gut bacteria, lifestyle information and maybe even data from your Fitbit.

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Shots - Health News
3:17 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Could This Virus Be Good For You?

Augustine Goba (right) heads the laboratory at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone. He and colleagues analyzed the viral genetics in blood samples from 78 Ebola patients early in the epidemic.
Stephen Gire AP

Originally published on Fri January 30, 2015 9:46 am

Viruses are usually thought of as the bad guys — causing everything from Ebola and AIDS to hepatitis and measles. But scientists have been following the curious story of a particular virus that might actually be good for you.

The virus is called GB Virus-C, and more than a billion people alive today have apparently been infected with it at some point during their lives, says Dr. Jack Stapleton, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa.

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Shots - Health News
2:03 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Scientists Give Genetically Modified Organisms A Safety Switch

Scientists reprogrammed the common bacterium E. coli so it requires a synthetic amino acid to live.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 6:37 pm

Researchers at Harvard and Yale have used some extreme gene-manipulation tools to engineer safety features into designer organisms.

This work goes far beyond traditional genetic engineering, which involves moving a gene from one organism to another. In this case, they're actually rewriting the language of genetics.

The goal is to make modified organisms safer to use, and also to protect them against viruses that can wreak havoc on pharmaceutical production.

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Shots - Health News
12:13 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

The City Might Not Be To Blame For High Asthma Rates

Dr. Stephen Teach helps Jeffery Ulmer listen to his daughter Alauna's asthmatic breathing at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Alauna's mother, Farisa, holds her. The District has one of the highest rates of pediatric asthma in the country.
Jahi Chikwendiu Washington Post

Originally published on Sat January 24, 2015 3:15 pm

Asthma affects children regardless of where they live and whether they are rich or poor. But scientists have long thought that living in poor urban neighborhoods adds an extra risk for this troublesome lung inflammation. A new study suggests that's not necessarily the case.

Asthma is often triggered by something in the environment, so in the 1960s, scientists started looking for places where asthma was especially bad.

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Shots - Health News
12:00 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

U.S. Funding of Health Research Stalls As Other Nations Rev Up

U.S. funding for medical research by source, 1994-2012. (Data were adjusted to 2012 dollars using the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index.)
American Medical Association

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 7:32 am

Though the United States is still leading the world in research related to diseases, it is rapidly losing its edge, according to an analysis in the American Medical Association's flagship journal JAMA.

If you look at biomedical research around the globe, the United States funded 57 percent of that work a decade ago. The U.S. share has since dropped to 44 percent, according to the study published online Tuesday.

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Goats and Soda
1:17 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

Ebola Vaccine Will Soon Be Tested In West Africa

The windows at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, where Ebola cases are treated, are streaked with chlorinated water as a disinfectant.
Tommy Trenchard for NPR

Ebola vaccine developers are on track to start testing their products in West Africa in about a month, the World Health Organization said at a press conference today.

And it's a race against the clock — testing will become more challenging if the number of new Ebola cases continues to drop.

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Shots - Health News
12:19 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Scientists Hit Antibiotic Pay Dirt Growing Finicky Bacteria In Lab

You don't want to run into methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. A potential new antibiotic could help fight this bug.
CDC

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 11:39 am

Scientists say they have discovered a natural compound from bacteria that may prove to be a potent new antibiotic. This news comes at a time when many current antibiotics are losing their oomph — germs become resistant to them.

The new compound is especially intriguing because it appears that it might not lose its germ-killing potential, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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Shots - Health News
2:38 am
Wed January 7, 2015

A Bed Of Mouse Cells Helps Human Cells Thrive In The Lab

Dr. Richard Schlegel and postdoctoral fellow Nancy Palechor-Ceron use a microscope to look at human epithelial cells growing on mouse fibroblasts at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Lauren Wolkoff/Georgetown University

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 11:35 am

A drug that is used worldwide to treat malaria is now being tested as a treatment for cervical cancer. This surprising idea is the result of a new laboratory technique that could have far-reaching uses.

Our story starts with Dr. Richard Schlegel at Georgetown University Medical Center. He's best known for inventing the Gardasil vaccine to protect women from cervical cancer.

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Shots - Health News
3:51 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

Researchers Create Artificial Organs That Fit In Your Hand

Postdoctoral researcher Jennifer Foulke-Abel holds the gut-on-a-chip inside the lab at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Richard Harris NPR

Originally published on Mon January 5, 2015 3:16 pm

Great balls of cells! Scientists are developing mock human organs that can fit in the palm of your hand.

These organs-on-a-chip are designed to test drugs and help understand the basics of how organs function when they are healthy and when they are diseased.

For instance, you have your gut-on-a-chip being developed at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. It's a high-tech approach to dealing with a scourge of the low-tech world.

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