This is really, really great news.
Researchers have discovered a possible enzyme deficiency that may be the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) that claims the lives of more than 1,300 American babies and an estimated 15,000 babies worldwide each year.
Dr. Carmel Harrington, who has a PHD in Sleep Medicine from Sydney University in Australia, lost her two-year-old son Damien to SIDS in 1991.
Now a study she has led has identified the first biochemical marker that could help detect babies more at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) while they still live. "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 asserted.
Researchers led by Harrington identified Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) as the biochemical marker that could help solve SIDS.
"The study found BChE levels were significantly lower in babies who subsequently died of SIDS compared to living controls and other infant deaths," Sydney Children's Hospital Network reported, adding, "BChE plays a major role in the brain's arousal pathway and researchers believe its deficiency likely indicates an arousal deficit, which reduces an infant's ability to wake or respond to the external environment, causing vulnerability to SIDS."
In short, this enzyme helps us wake back up after sleeping. As any parent knows all too well, babies don't have the best sleep-wake rhythms. Nor are their respiratory and nervous systems fully developed, leading to possible complications when the BChE enzyme is low.
Harrington stated, "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."
While better sleeping practices have halved the rate of SIDS over the last few decades, SIDS remains the leading cause of death for children under a year old in the developed world.
The study looked at 722 blood spots from the National Screening Program – spots that come from vital tests that are performed with a small prick on the infant's heel immediately after birth. Like with umbilical cord blood, parents must consent to donate the spots to research.
"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."
"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," she concluded.
Let's pray that the next generation of babies can be spared this horrifying condition that has affected so many families!
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