New Study Finds Possible Clarifications For SIDS

Prime Clinics

Parents of newborns may be feeling trepidatious about the wellbeing of their children. Babies are fragile beings that need a lot of care and attention, and with the horror stories they often hear, they can’t help but constantly worry.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is a very real problem that may parents had to deal with. The good news is that this could very well be a past problem because researchers have come across a world-first breakthrough that could be the solution.

Researchers working at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead have identified Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE). This is the first biochemical marker that could help point out the infants who have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The goal is to keep their babies alive and to see them grow into wonderful adults.

In order to understand how SIDS happens, the study analyzed BChE activity in 722 Dried Blood Spots (DBS). These were collected directly after the babies were born as a Newborn Screening Program. They made use of samples that parents approved of so that these will be de-identified during research. The BChE was then measured in both SIDS and infants that had passed from other causes. They compared the numbers to ten infants that survived. They made sure that these infants shared gender and date of birth.

The research was led by Dr. Carmel Harrington. Aside from being the study lead, she is also an Honorary Research Fellow at CHW. She got involved because she lost her own child to SIDS 29 years before. They found that the BChE levels were much lower in infants who had subsequently passed away SIDS than the living controls and other infant deaths.

BChE has a crucial part in the brain’s arousal pathway. The researchers have come to believe when it levels are low, this is most likely to be indicative of an arousal deficit. This means that this lessens the baby’s ability to wake or respond to the external stimuli that comes from the environment. Hence, they are at risk to suffering from SIDS.

Dr. Harrington believes that the findings of the study are groundbreaking. “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,” Dr. Harrington explained.

“This has long been thought to be the case, but up to now we didn’t know what was causing the lack of arousal. 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,” she added.

SIDS is the unexplained death of what seems to be a healthy infant who is less than a year old. This happens when they sleep.

The good news is that SIDS incidents have lowered by more than 50 percent in recent years thanks to the public health campaigns that discuss the known major risk factors of prone sleeping, maternal smoking, and overheating. While the cases have definitely gone down, the rates are still concerning because this is the very reason behind almost 50 percent of all post-neonatal deaths in Western countries. This is also why there are two infant deaths weekly in Australia.

After Dr. Harrington lost her son, Damien, to SIDS, she has dedicated her life and her work to finding answers for this. Her research has supported a lot of the research via the crowd-funding campaign, Damien’s Legacy, she started. She has come across interesting findings and she hopes that these will help future mothers and give answers to those who have become victims of it.

“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.”

“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,” Dr. Harrington said.

Yes, the findings give hope to future parents because they are urged to follow safe sleeping practices that have been recommended by experts. Included in the list of practices are placing babies on their backs as they sleep, keeping their head and face uncovered during sleep, using light and breathable blankets, making sure that the environment safe at all times, and monitoring their infants as they sleep.

The next steps for them is start looking into introducing the BChE biomarker when newborns are screened. They also want to come up with specified interventions that help address this type of enzyme deficiency. With its current trajectory, they may be able to complete the research in five years’ time.

“This discovery changes the narrative around SIDS and is the start of a very exciting journey ahead. We are going to be able to work with babies while they are living and make sure they keep living,” Dr. Harrington stated.

This research details have been published by The Lancet’s eBioMedicine.