(Gray News) – A breakthrough in medical research may have just solved the mystery of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Westmead in Australia have identified the first biochemical marker that could help identify babies who are more at risk for SIDS while still alive.
The biomarker, an enzyme called Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), was analyzed in the study published Saturday by Lancet’s eBioMedicine.
The study measured BChE activity in the blood of infants who had decreased at birth. Next, BChE was measured in both SIDS victims and infants who died from other causes and compared those levels to those of surviving infants of the same birthday and sex.
The study found that BChE levels at birth were significantly lower in babies who later died of SIDS compared to BChE levels in babies who died from other causes and in live babies.
BChE plays an important role in the brain’s arousal pathway. Therefore, researchers believe that low levels of BChE likely indicate an arousal deficit, which reduces a baby’s ability to awaken or respond to his or her environment, creating vulnerability to SIDS.
dr. Carmel Harrington led the study. According to a press release, she lost her own child to SIDS 29 years ago.
Harrington said the findings are a game changer.
“Babies have a very powerful mechanism for letting us know when they are not happy. When a baby is faced with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because he is lying on his stomach, he will usually wake up and cry out What this research shows is that some babies don’t have the same powerful arousal response,” Harrington said in a press release. “This was long thought to be the case, but until now we didn’t know what caused the lack of arousal. Now that we know BChE is involved, we can begin to change the outcome for these babies and make SIDS a thing of the past.”
Harrington also said she hopes the findings will bring some peace to grieving families.
“An apparently healthy baby going to sleep and not waking up is every parent’s nightmare, and until now there was absolutely no way of knowing which baby would succumb. But that’s not the case anymore,” Harrington said. “This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally provides answers to parents who have lost their children so tragically. These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault.”
Researchers said the next step is to require the BChE biomarker to be measured in newborns at birth and then develop specific interventions to address the enzyme deficiency in infants who have it.
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