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children at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) could be identified through a biochemical marker, according to a new study published in The Lancet’s eBioMedicine.
SIDS is the unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby less than a year old, typically while sleeping, according to the Mayo Clinic. The CDC reports that SIDS accounted for 37% of infant deaths in the United States in 2019.
Researchers investigating the cause of SIDS at the Children’s Hospital of Westmead (CHW) in Australia said they have identified the first biochemical marker that could help detect babies most at risk for SCD while still alive.
Dr Carmel Harrington, an honorary researcher who led the study, said his findings are changing the game. Harrington said the study provided an explanation for SIDS and hope for the prevention of deaths associated with this mysterious condition.
“A seemingly healthy baby who goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up is every parent’s nightmare and until now there was absolutely no way of knowing which baby would die. But that’s no longer the case. We found the first marker to indicate vulnerability before death, ”Harrington said in a news release.
According to the study, Australian researchers analyzed the levels of a specific enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), in 722 dry blood spots (DBS) taken at birth as part of a newborn screening program. They measured BChE levels in children dying from SIDS and other causes, each compared to 10 surviving children with the same date of birth and sex.
According to the published report, the researchers found lower levels of BChE in infants who died from SIDS than in living control groups of infants and other non-SIDS-related infant deaths.
“We conclude that a previously unidentified cholinergic deficiency, identifiable by abnormal -BChEsa, is present at birth in SIDS babies and represents a measurable and specific vulnerability prior to their death,” said the researchers.
The researchers explained that BChE plays a vital role in the brain’s arousal pathway. They further explained that a BChE deficiency likely suggests an arousal deficit in children, which would reduce their ability to wake up or respond to the external environment, making them susceptible to SIDS.
“Babies have a very powerful mechanism for letting us know when they are not happy. Usually, if a baby is faced with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing while sleeping because he is on his stomach, he will wake up. and he will cry. What this research shows is that some babies don’t have the same strong arousal response, “Harrington said.
Dr. Matthew Harris, an emergency medicine pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center / Northwell Health in Long Island, New York, was not involved in the study, but said Fox News“The results of the study are interesting and important. Although the sample size is small, the study seems to indicate that lower levels of this enzyme are associated with a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Importantly, this may represent an opportunity for both early screening for risk factors during the perinatal period and could offer scientists and doctors the opportunity to discover an intervention. ”
Harris added: “Currently, we look at dozens of metabolic disorders as part of the newborn screening process, and if this proves to be a true association, this could add to the growing list of disorders that we can detect early and possibly prevent progression to severe disease. “.
Harrington, who not only conducted the study but also experienced the loss of her own baby to SIDS nearly three decades ago, said in the press release that until now, health experts were unaware of what was causing the lack of arousal in children. “Now that we know BChE is involved, we can begin to change the outcome for these children and make SIDS a thing of the past.”