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Ivor Kovic M.D. Posts

Drugs from your inbox

Spam, or unsolicited e-mail, is everywhere and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it will never go away, at least not until people keep buying the stuff spammers offer. And oh boy aren’t there always some new suckers in the cyberspace. However, things get far less amusing when human health gets into play. Have you noticed that a high percentage of spam you receive today is health-related?

It is just this health-related spam that Peter Gernburd and Alejandro Jadad from the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation from Canada wanted to find out more about. In September 2007 issue of PLoS Medicine, an open-access, peer-reviewed medical journal, they published a very interesting paper on this subject titled “Will Spam Overwhelm Our Defenses? Evaluating Offerings for Drugs and Natural Health Products”E/mail spam selling drugs
In their research they used three e-mail accounts, unfiltered for spam, to gather all the spam they could get in the period of one month. Among all the received spam messages, they picked out the health-related ones, defined as those which included offers of interventions that could modify a physical, cognitive, behavioral, or emotional state in humans (e.g., medications, natural health products, devices, or professional services). All Web links included in such messages were further analyzed.

During the study period researchers received 4,153 spam messages, out of which 1,334 or 32% were health related. Majority of these messages (73%) were sent from the United States.

Scientists tried to order prescription drugs and natural health products from Web sites advertised in these messages. Online drugsEventually, they received 9 orders (5 prescription drugs and 4 natural health products). Some of the products they managed to buy where Clalis (for erectile dysfunction), Tramadol (for pain), Valium and Xanax (for anxiety and other disorders). There was no report of any evidence of credit card abuse by the spammers, except for one undelivered product.

What the study lacked, but authors promised to report on in the near future, was the analysis of the actual purchased pharmaceutical products to reveal whether they are genuine, fakes, and most importantly are they dangerous.

You can read the complete paper on PLoS Medicine Web site.

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PubMed provides access to Medline, a premier bibliographic database that contains references to journal articles in the life sciences with a concentration on biomedicine. It is available via the NCBI Entrez retrieval system, which was developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), located at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

PubMed is extremely popular among biomedical researchers, in part because it offers free access, contrary to other such search engines like Scopus and Web of Science. However, during the years I heard a lot of people complaining about PubMed. They do not like its interface and are not satisfied with search results it provides. A lot of these people never gave any thought about PubMed, nor did they try to learn how to use it properly. They just punch in queries like they do on Google. I believe that a lot can be improved by understanding of Medline and especially of the MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) controlled vocabulary used to index all Medline articles. Users should also use tags, booleans operators and limitations, which can make the whole search process more pleasant and satisfactory. I highly recommend going through the PubMed online training, which also offers easy to follow animated tutorials with sound.

However, I would like to present a different approach to searching PubMed, an online application named PubReMiner. I had an opportunity to see a presentation of PubReMiner during my stay at the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam last summer, and was immediately delighted by it. Instantaneously I realized how beneficial it could be during my future search for literature. 

PubReMiner was created by Jan Koster, a member of Bio-informatics team of the Department of Human Genetics at the AMC, with a purpose to help people find biomedical literature on a certain subject indexed by the PubMed database. PubMed is growing larger everyday and when you enter a search term on any subject, it is highly likely that you will end up with a huge number of references and a headache. To get something useful to work with you need to combine different keywords, but usually you do not know which ones. Here is were PubReMiner steps in. It allows you to initiate a broad query (which is currently restricted to 7.500 abstracts), after which you can add or exclude words, authors, and journals to guide your search. These are all displayed in descending order, allowing you to immediately see which words, authors, and journals are used the most in combination with your query, so you can use them in your search. Apart for allowing the construction of efficient queries, PubReMiner can be useful in other areas, and this is actually how I use it the most. These are:

  • Selection of a journal for your current work (by scanning the most often used journals of similar research)
  • Finding experts in a research area (by viewing the authors associated with your query)
  • Determination of the research interest of an author (by viewing the keywords associated with an author) 

The best way to get the idea about PubReMiner is, of course, to try it yourself. Nevertheless, I will post a simple demonstration enriched by screen shots to get you started. 

Let’s say for example that you were reading the new issue of Nature and read the article entitled “Proteasome subunit Rpn13 is a novel ubiquitin receptor” by Koraljka Husnjak, Suzanne Elsasser, Naixia Zhang, Xiang Chen, Leah Randles, Yuan Shi, Kay Hofmann, Kylie J. Walters, Daniel Finley & Ivan Dikic. You were very intrigued by the research, so you decided to learn more about this research group and their work. You start you investigation with the last author, knowing that he might be the leader of the group. 

Go to PubReMiner and enter “dikic i” into the search box.


Your query results in 99 references. 
PubReMinerThis is way too much for you to start reading it all, but you can already learn a lot about the author. You can see for example the number of publications he has published per year, in which journals and who were his most frequent coauthors. Also, you can see which words, Mesh terms and substances are used in combination with this author, and this can help you identify his research interests. In just a matter of seconds you came to know that this author is, among others, interested in phosphorylation, signal transduction and ubiquitin/metabolism. 

The article you read was about ubiquitin, and this is the subject you are most interested in, so you select Ubiquitin/metabolism Mesh term and search again. 


Again, you get a lot of information in a structured table about Ivan Dikic’s work on ubiquitin. This is still too much for you to read, so you select only his most recent work, the last two years (2007 & 2008).


 This query gives you 5 references, which you feel is just the perfect number for you to start learning more, so you click on theGoTo PubMed with query button. 


The button does what it promises to do, which is opening PubMed in new window with your search query and 5 references.


This is just a small part of what PubReMiner has to offer, but I hope I managed to at least show you some basic and encourage you to try it.  

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Apparel Inspired by Medical Sciences

Threadless is a hugely popular online apparel store mostly famous for its creative t-shirt designs. What is unique about it is that members from all over the world submit designs online, which are then put to a public vote. Almost all of the submissions are brilliant, because they are mainly the work of professional designers or very talented passionates, but only a small percentage of submitted designs are selected for printing and sold through the store. This process ensures a higher quality of the final product, design version of peer review in scientific journals. 

I have been following submissions to the store for a while and have noticed that quite a substantial number of designs that end up being sold on Threadless are inspired by medicine, anatomy, dentistry, science, and such. At the same time, I have also been following fashion styles of numerous physicians and scientists, and let me tell you it is a sore sight for eyes 🙂 So many people in our profession have literally no sense of aesthetics. To help them (help us) and those who have to interact with them (us), I selected some of the t-shirts inspired by medical sciences from the Threadless catalog. Just imagine how cool you would look on monday morning when you come to your lab or hospital department. You could literally inspire people, make them smile and light up. Isn’t that the best medicine?

Run, Scientists, Run!
Run scientist



Lab Partners

And He Just Did Not Have A Clue 
And He Just Did Not Have A Clue

Fill Me Up
Fill Me Up

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart

Connect It
Connect It


The Downside of Genetic Engineering
The Downside of Genetic Engineering

Myopia Utopia
Myopia Utopia

Hooray Cholesterol!
Hooray Cholesterol!

Happy Hospital
Happy Hospital

Fig. 02
Fig. 02

I Heart Color
I love Color

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Creative Health Advertising, part 4

Click on photo to enlarge.

Child Health Foundation
“Some children get to heaven earlier. Child Health Foundation”
Child in smoke heaven

Edith Cavell Hospital, “Little Premature Xmas Card”
Every year, the premature baby unit at Edith Cavell hospital sends cards to the other departments as well as to some ex-patients. They sent this card in October and when you open it you see the message – It’s a little premature, but Happy Christmas.
Christmas card

Nycomed Kodimagnyl – Headache
Removes even the heaviest headache
Women with headacheMan with headache

Youth AIDS: Sex
AIDS is still out there and it still kills. To learn more visit
Aids still kills

National blood centre
Sign written in blood

Centrum / Whitehall-Much: Thinker
“Nutrients for the brain.”
Child thinker

“When swallowing hurts.”

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Creative Health Advertising, part 3

Click on photo to enlarge.

Sensodyne toothpaste: Hard hat
sensodyne protects

Aquafresh Flexigel: A new flexibility
Aquafresh toothbrushAquafresh toothbrush

Alghanim Industries: Dead Body
Smoking kills
Smoking Kills

nezeril blocked words

Brioschi Digestive
Digestion made easy
Mexican foodChinese foodIndian food

Child Health Foundation – SOS
Overweight child

The Romanian Society for Alzheimers
Living with alzheimers
Living with alzheimer

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Creative Health Advertising, part 2

Click on photo to enlarge.

Nicorette: Children
“Everything you do affects your children. Stop smoking with Nicorette.”
Stop smoking with Nicorette.”LegoChild drawing

Anorexia Bulimia Contact: The Mirror
Anorexic looking in the mirror seeing herself as fat

Breast Cancer Welfare Association: How To Remove
How to remove and how to save a breast

Hemorol Suppositories: Hospital, Rollercoaster, Convertible
“Natural healing and relief for haemorrhoids.”
ConvertibleWheel chairRollercoaster

Malteser Ambulance Service: Typo
“Dont’ drink and drive. Malteser Ambulance Service”
Skull fractureParaplegiaCrashed

Braille League
“Blind see what they hear. Help them to see more. Braille League”
miauwvroomtelephone ring

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