A groundbreaking new study has identified what researchers believe is the cause of infant and child death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Researchers from Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, found that a low level of a certain enzyme, called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), could explain the imbalance that causes some babies to not be unaware or wake up if they stop breathing while they sleep.
The study was published in the latest issue of The Lancet’s eBioMedicine, forthcoming June 2022 issue.
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For years, medical experts have suspected that sudden infant death syndrome is caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls waking and breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. They hypothesized that if an infant stopped breathing during sleep, the defect would prevent the infant from waking up.
Sydney researchers confirmed the theory by analyzing dried blood samples from 722 babies taken during a newborn heel prick test – 655 of the tests were of healthy babies, 26 of babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome and 41 babies who died of other causes. in childhood.
They found that SIDS children had lower levels of BChE, an enzyme known for its abilities in the brain’s excitation system.
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“Until now we didn’t know why there was such a lack of excitement,” Dr Carmel Harrington, who led the project and lost her son to SIDS 29 years ago, told The Guardian.
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“A baby who looks healthy when he sleeps and doesn’t wake up is every parent’s nightmare, and as of now there is absolutely no way of knowing which baby will give up.”
According to Statistics Canada data from 2015 to 2020, approximately 1,700 children under one year of age die in Canada annually. On average, 1 in 15 deaths occurred while an infant was sleeping.
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The agency says that although a number of these deaths were of natural causes, 83 percent occurred in a sudden and unexpected manner in otherwise healthy children.
Public Health Canada, in partnership with a number of other Canadian health organizations, recommends a number of sleep safety practices, including:
- Put infants on their backs to sleep, in their crib or cot.
- Prevent exposure to tobacco smoke before and after birth.
- Avoid sharing a bed.
- Avoid overheating.
- Remove toys and soft bedding from sleeping surfaces.
Harrington told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that she became interested in researching SIDS after doctors were unable to explain her son’s death.
“No one could tell me. They only said it was a tragedy. But it was a tragedy that was not good in my scientific mind.”
Now that her team has identified a cause, she said other families “can now live with the knowledge that it wasn’t their fault.”
An Alberta man rows through the prairie in memory of his grandson lost to sudden infant death syndrome.
The study says the researchers will now turn their attention to adding the BChE biomarker to newborn screening and “development of specific interventions to address the enzyme deficiency.”
They expect these next steps to take about five years to complete.
“This discovery changes the narrative around SIDS and is the beginning of a very exciting journey into the future. We will be able to work with children during their lives and make sure that they continue to live,” said Harrington.
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