Blood marker found for babies at risk of SIDS

A team of Australian researchers has identified a biochemical marker in the blood that could help identify newborns at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, a breakthrough they say creates a pathway for future prevention interventions. tragedies.

In their study, babies who died of SIDS had lower levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) shortly after birth, the researchers said.

BChE plays an important role in the brain’s activation pathway, and low levels would reduce a sleeping baby’s ability to wake up or respond to their environment.

The findings are a game changer, offering not only hope for the future but also answers for the past, study leader Dr. Carmel Harrington, of Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Australia, said in a statement.

“A seemingly healthy baby who falls asleep and doesn’t wake up is every parent’s nightmare and until now there was no way of knowing which baby would succumb,” Harrington said.

“But that is no longer the case. We have found the first marker that indicates vulnerability before death.”

Using dried blood spots taken at birth as part of a newborn screening program, Harrington’s team compared BChE levels in 26 babies who later died of SIDS, 41 babies who died of other causes, and 655 surviving babies.

The fact that levels of the enzyme were significantly lower in babies who later died of SIDS suggests that SIDS babies were inherently vulnerable to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious and involuntary functions of the body, the researchers said. researchers.

The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network in Australia called the discovery “a world-first breakthrough”.

Failure to wake when appropriate “has long been considered a key component of an infant’s vulnerability” to SIDS, the research team in The Lancet’s eBio Medicine said.

SIDS is the unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby while sleeping.

Harrington lost her own son to SIDS 29 years ago and has dedicated her career to researching the condition, according to the statement.

“Further research is urgently needed” to determine whether routine BChE measurement could potentially help prevent future SIDS deaths, the researchers said.

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