Billy Rubin

The adventures of a pre-clerkship medical student.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Michael J. Fox on Stem Cells

Russ Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of faking his symptoms in his political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. Quoting Limbaugh:
"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

Russ Limbaugh is a jackass. The writhing you see is dyskinesia, a common side-effect of the medications used to treat the disease. Michael J. Fox was telling the truth when he responded to Russ Limbaugh by saying:
"I’m kinda lucky right now. It’s ironic, given some things that have been said in the last couple days, that my pills are working really well right now."

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Google Bomb

Try entering the words "miserable failure" into a google searchbar. What do you come up with? The biography of President George W. Bush on the White House website.

How is this possible? The answer my friend is the google bomb. As wikipedia explains: "Because of the way that Google's algorithm works, a page will be ranked higher if the sites that link to that page use consistent anchor text. A Google bomb is created if a large number of sites link to the page in this manner." A small number of sites (~32) all having the same link can be enough to create such a google bomb.

And before you ask, no George Bush's website doesn't appear when you search moron or dumbass.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006



Thursday, October 19, 2006


I wish to express my condolances to Uncle's family. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see Uncle and his family last Sunday. With his long battle coming to an end, Uncle was at peace. He was happy to have his family around him. In a quiet voice he sang again and again:
"I've got a mansion over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we'll never grow old,
And some day yonder we will never more wander,
But walk on streets of purest gold."
I hope he finds what he's looking for.

With love and condolances,
William Rubin



Another gem from


Thursday, October 12, 2006


My uncle was sitting in a chair holding a garbage bucket. The bit of hair he had was dishevelled. A large bruise stood out on his pale skin. His right leg was badly swollen; with no narrowing at the ankle or knee, it looked like a cylinder. He was nodding in and out of consciousness.

His family sat around his bed. His wife and daughters looked as if they had been crying.

As I walked into the room everyone greeted me. I sat and they began to explain the severity of the situation. My uncle was in renal failure. He had been flown into this tertiary hospital to have an emergency operation, but his platelet level was too low to risk the surgery. Doctors didn't expect him to make it through the night.

The minister, who had been sitting quietly with the family, began to pray. I bowed my head. " 'In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I go to prepare a place for you.' "

Sitting in his chair, Uncle began to sing. "I've got a mansion over the hilltop, In that bright land where we'll never grow old, And some day yonder we will never more wander, But walk on streets of purest gold."

I sat with the family, not knowing what to say. When it was finally time to leave, I told Uncle it was good seeing him and that I would see him again soon. He drifted off into unconsciousness. I said my goodbyes to the family and left, wondering if that would be the last time I saw him.


Functional Neuroanatomy

I discovered this program, Functional Neuroanatomy, at the University of Toronto website. It's an amazing program for learning neuro structures. It has sagittal, axial and coronal images of the brain, angiograms, tracts, and spinal cord sections. Structures light up when you pass your mouse over them and a brief description appears on the right. You can switch back and forth between anatomical features, functional areas, and vascular territories. In each of the views, you can do self tests to aid you in naming things. It's a remarkable program and a great aid for med students who are slogging through neuro. Hope it helps

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Animaniacs sing the countries


Monday, October 02, 2006

And the award goes to...

Before I began this long journey called medical school, I did some graduate research for a couple years. A large chunk of my research used a technique called RNA Interference (RNAi). It's an amazing piece of technology which allows a researcher to selectively eliminate one gene product. It's like being able to thumb through a phone book and selectively erase one person. All the other names and numbers are left undisturbed except for that one. RNAi is essentially the magnet which allows you to remove the one needle from the haystack.

A simplied mechanism of RNAi is shown here. Put simply short sequences of RNA called small interfering RNA (siRNA) bind to a complimentary region of messenger RNA. This creates a double-stranded RNA which is detected by the cell and "sliced" up. The power of this tool is that the sequence of the siRNA is chosen so that it recognizes only one mRNA sequence. And in this way you selectively remove the mRNA before it is translated into protein/enzymes/etc.

The reason I bring this up is that this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Andrew Fire and Craig Mello for "for their discovery of RNA interference - gene silencing by double-stranded RNA". The press release describes their eureka moment:

Andrew Fire and Craig Mello were investigating how gene expression is regulated in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (Fig. 2). Injecting mRNA molecules encoding a muscle protein led to no changes in the behaviour of the worms. The genetic code in mRNA is described as being the 'sense' sequence, and injecting 'antisense' RNA, which can pair with the mRNA, also had no effect. But when Fire and Mello injected sense and antisense RNA together, they observed that the worms displayed peculiar, twitching movements. Similar movements were seen in worms that completely lacked a functioning gene for the muscle protein. What had happened?

When sense and antisense RNA molecules meet, they bind to each other and form double-stranded RNA. Could it be that such a double-stranded RNA molecule silences the gene carrying the same code as this particular RNA? Fire and Mello tested this hypothesis by injecting double-stranded RNA molecules containing the genetic codes for several other worm proteins. In every experiment, injection of double-stranded RNA carrying a genetic code led to silencing of the gene containing that particular code. The protein encoded by that gene was no longer formed.

After a series of simple but elegant experiments, Fire and Mello deduced that double-stranded RNA can silence genes, that this RNA interference is specific for the gene whose code matches that of the injected RNA molecule, and that RNA interference can spread between cells and even be inherited. It was enough to inject tiny amounts of double-stranded RNA to achieve an effect, and Fire and Mello therefore proposed that RNA interference (now commonly abbreviated to RNAi) is a catalytic process.

Fire and Mello published their findings in the journal Nature on February 19, 1998. Their discovery clarified many confusing and contradictory experimental observations and revealed a natural mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information. This heralded the start of a new research field.

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