An Australian researcher who herself lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, has identified a marker in children indicating those who are more likely to succumb to the problem, the Australian ABC network reports.
Having had a son die of SIDS 29 years ago, Dr. Carmel Harrington of The Children’s Hospital Westmead wanted to find the cause of the syndrome. Working with the theory that the children died because they could not wake up when they were having breathing distress, the researchers identified a key enzyme that is not present at typical levels in the blood of SIDS victims.
The enzyme, butyrylcholinesterase, plays a major function in “waking up” the brain from sleep. By studying the blood of babies who died of SIDS versus those that didn’t, Harrington found SIDS victims had significantly lower amounts of the enzyme.
“Babies have a very powerful mechanism to let us know when they are not happy,” Harrington said. “Usually, if a baby is confronted with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because they’re 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. 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.”
Armed with this knowledge, scientists can now develop a test to screen children with a higher likelihood of suffering from SIDS, allowing doctors to advise parents on a monitoring processes that could save their child’s life. Further research may be able to provide a medical treatment to raise the level of butyrylcholinesterase in children’s blood.