A team of scientists from Australia has found that babies at high risk of sudden mysterious infant death syndrome, or SIDS, generally have low levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) in their blood.
SIDS, also known as “cradle death,” has claimed the lives of thousands of children across the West. in the United States , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) It is estimated that around 3,400 children die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. Meanwhile, the UK reports about 200 such deaths a year, according to NHS data.
However, the disease is shrouded in mystery – experts have not been able to establish the causes of the deadly disease. While the Australian study could pave the way for early intervention and diagnosis, health experts warn that there is still a long way to go before the true cause of SIDS is identified.
So, what is sudden infant death syndrome?
Sudden infant death syndrome refers to the sudden and unexpected death of an otherwise healthy infant under one year of age, generally while he is sleeping. Most deaths associated with SIDS occur in infants aged 1-4 months.
According to the NHS website, parents can reduce the risk of SIDS by not smoking during pregnancy or after the baby is born and by making sure the baby is laid on his back when sleeping.
CNN reported that some health experts said it was linked to problems in the part of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and waking.
What does the new study say?
The study was published earlier this month in the journal eBioMedicine, and evaluated whether something was inherently different in children who succumbed to SIDS. The team that conducted the research was led by Dr Carmel Harrington of Westmead Children’s Hospital, in Sydney, Australia, who lost one of her children to sudden infant death syndrome nearly 30 years ago.
The researchers compared dried blood samples from 655 healthy infants, 26 children who died of sudden infant death syndrome and 41 children who died of other causes. The team found that about nine out of 10 babies who died of SIDS had lower levels of BChE enzymes than babies in the other two groups.
What is responsible for the BChE enzyme?
The New York Times reported that these enzymes are responsible for sending signals that make the baby wake up, turn his head or gasp for breath. It is part of the autonomic system, and it controls functions such as blood pressure and breathing.
The study cites previous research, which showed that animals in contact with second-hand smoke tend to show low levels of BChE. He notes that many other factors and changes in the first six months of an infant’s life can also contribute to low levels of these enzymes.
“Children have a very powerful mechanism for letting us know when they are not happy. Typically, if a child encounters a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because they are on their stomach, they will wake up and scream. What this research shows is that some children do not have the same strong arousal response,” Dr Harrington told the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.
Why study should be treated with caution
While the results of this study are important, scientists are still some time away from determining the cause and treatment of SIDS.
While the study found that infants with SIDS reported lower levels of BChE compared to children without the disease, it did not establish a “normal” level of the enzyme, the New York Times report notes.
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Furthermore, the study looks at blood samples that are at least a few years old. This means that they could not measure the absolute levels of enzymes in the fresh blood.
Even if low levels of BChE are found in children, doctors have not been able to determine a treatment for the condition.