Can a Blood Test Diagnose Concussions?

Ann McKee at Boston University School of Medicine examines the donated brains of former professional athletes to understand how repeated head injuries affect the brain. Her findings about pro-athletes—like Tom McHale, who died at age 45 due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by multiple concussions—has influenced the new NFL ruling on concussions. Until 2009, players could play after sustaining a head injury as long as they didn’t lose consciousness. Since then, players cannot play if they show signs such as dizziness, headaches, memory lapses, and an inability to recall plays.

But physicians know that these signs—and diagnostic imagining—don’t always indicate concussions and athletes (and others) might continue normal activities with mild concussions. A new blood test might make it easier for physicians to detect head injuries.

U.S. Army researchers, with partners at Banyan Biomarkers, have devised a simple blood test to determine a concussion. The test looks for proteins, SBDP145 and BSDP120, which flood the bloodstream after axons (the neuron’s tails, which aid in transmitting electrical messages) break. The test also detects UcH-L1, which indicates cell damage, and MAP-2, which oozes out following dendrite injuries (dendrites are branch-like projections, aiding in electrochemical stimulation).

Army Col. Dallas Hack, MD, managed the research of this biomarker test, which accurately diagnosed 34 people with concussions. After the researchers finished the blood test, the preformed traditional imagining tests, confirming the mild brain injury. Doctors sometimes miss mild concussion because signs don’t appear on X-rays and patients frequently minimize symptoms (consider the professional athletes who don’t want to sit out games).

Experts warn that the excitement surrounding such a discovery might be premature. This initial study looked at a small sample and there is little agreement about what actually constitutes a mild concussion. The Army plans to conduct more pilot and feasibility studies as well as a larger study of 1,200 patients, slated for completion in 2013.


Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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