(Gray News) – A medical research breakthrough might have just solved the mystery of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Australia have identified the first biochemical marker that could help detect babies more at risk of SIDS while they are alive.
The biomarker, an enzyme called Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), was analyzed in the study published Saturday by the Lancet’s eBioMedicine.
The study measured BChE activity in the blood of infants drawn at birth. It then measured the BChE in both SIDS victims and infants dying from other causes and compared those levels to those of surviving babies with the same birthday and gender.
The study found that BChE levels at birth were significantly lower in babies who later died of SIDS when compared to BChE levels of infants who died of other causes and of living babies.
BChE plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway. Thus, researchers believe low levels of BChE likely indicate an arousal deficit, which reduces a baby’s ability to wake or respond to his or her environment, causing vulnerability to SIDS.
Dr. Carmel Harrington led the study. She lost her own child to SIDS 29 years ago, according to a press release.
Harrington said the findings are a game changer.
“Babies have a very powerful mechanism to let us know when they are not happy. Usually, if a baby is confronted with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because they are on their tummies, they will arouse and cry out. What this research shows is that some babies don’t have this same robust arousal response,” Harrington said in a press release. “This has long been thought to be the case, but up to now we didn’t know what was causing the lack of arousal. Now that we know that 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 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 infant would succumb. But that’s not the case anymore,” Harrington said. “This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally gives 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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