An intellect that spanned medicine, music, letters

Raphael Rubin, liver pathology expert.
Raphael Rubin, liver pathology expert.
Posted: September 25, 2011

Dr. Raphael Rubin, 55, of Merion, a professor of pathology and cell biology at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College, died of brain cancer, Sunday, Sept. 18, at home.

Dr. Rubin was an expert on liver pathology. His research focused on a kind of cell signaling known as insulinlike growth factor 1 - an important hormone known to keep cancer cells growing.

His research has been published in more than 100 professional journals. He was coeditor of the fifth and sixth editions of Rubin's Pathology, a medical textbook first published by his father, Emanuel Rubin.

Dr. Rubin, who was named physician of the year in 2000 by the American Liver Foundation, headed Jefferson's liver study unit and worked closely with liver transplant teams.

In April, his portrait was unveiled at Jefferson Medical College, where had been a member of the faculty since 1986.

In a recent tribute, Mark L. Tykocinski, dean of Jefferson Medical College, wrote: "What distinguished Dr. Rubin was the sheer breadth of his talents and his multidimensionality, as a professional and as a person.

"Dr. Rubin was one of that rare breed of renaissance men, so well read and so well thought out, with intellectual curiosity and talents spanning medicine, music, and literature. He was one of Jefferson's distinguished educators, with national visibility as editor of one of the landmark medical school textbooks in the field of pathology.

"As an NIH-funded scientist, he shed light on the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis, and through his clinical service as an elite liver pathologist, his diagnostic acumen brought much good to countless patients."

Though he was dedicated to his work, "the pursuit of science and education did not fully satiate his quest for understanding," son Jascha said.

Since becoming ill three years ago, Dr. Rubin had filled his Kindle with almost 300 books and read them all, his son said. He was devoted to the Jewish community and studied with rabbis at Lower Merion Synagogue.

A talented musician who played piano and excelled at the violin, Dr. Rubin performed as a soloist with the Main Line Symphony and with the Merion Trio.

He played in benefit concerts for Jefferson and for Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion, where his daughters were students. He and his wife had established a science education fund for the school.

Dr. Rubin spent summer vacations with his family hiking out West. On weekends, he would take his children camping in the Poconos. No matter how hectic his week, his son said, he always gathered his family for Friday dinner.

He was a terrific tennis player, Jascha Rubin said, and never backed down from a basketball game with his son's friends.

Two weeks before his diagnosis in 2008, Dr. Rubin ran in the Philadelphia Marathon with his wife and son, who are also physicians.

He and his wife, Rene Rothstein-Rubin, married in 1982. They were introduced by mutual friends who met by chance in New York after attending musical events - the symphony for him, Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park for her.

When his pathology department at Jefferson confirmed the diagnosis of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, his wife, an oncologist, took over his care with the help of experts in the field. She is medical director of multidisciplinary cancer programs at Hahnemann University Hospital.

After becoming ill, Dr. Rubin continued to travel with his wife and children on exotic vacations and to family functions.

Though forced to use a wheelchair and unable to speak, he traveled to Costa Rica several weeks ago with his wife and daughters. "We went into the jungle and waist-deep into the ocean and saw volcanoes," his wife said. "He didn't want to miss anything."

A native of Great Neck, N.Y., Dr. Rubin earned a bachelor's degree and medical degree in a six-year program at Boston University in 1979. He interned and completed a residency in anatomical pathology at Cornell Medical School - New York Hospital. After research fellowships at Hahnemann University Hospital and in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania, he was on the faculty at Hahnemann for two years before joining Jefferson.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Rubin is survived by sons Saul and Judah; daughters Zipporah, Sophie, Zahava, and Batsheva; two brothers; and a sister.

A graveside service was observed Monday, Sept. 19, at Har Jehuda Cemetery in Upper Darby.

Donations may be made to Kohelet Yeshiva High School, 223 N. Highland Ave., Merion Station, Pa. 19066.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or


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