We may have found a biomarker for one of the great killers in human history. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney have announced the discovery of a biomarker which indicated a greatly enhanced risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). SIDS is blamed for more than one third of all infant deaths each year, but it’s always been poorly understood.
“Many in the medical community suspected this phenomenon could be caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls arousal from sleep and breathing. The theory was that if the infant stopped breathing during sleep, the defect would keep them from startling or waking up.
The Sydney researchers were able to confirm this theory by analyzing dried blood samples taken from newborns who died from SIDS and other unknown causes. Each SIDS sample was then compared with blood taken from healthy babies. They found the activity of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS compared to living infants and other non-SIDS infant deaths. BChE plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway, explaining why SIDS typically occurs during sleep.”
For decades the only advice medical professionals had for avoiding SIDS was largely postural or mechanical: don’t use certain blankets, don’t let them sleep on their bellies or sides, keep toys and plushes out of cribs. But every year thousands of infants still succumbed to it, even in cases where every precaution was made. Finding this biomarker would allow at-risk children to be monitored more closely, and give parents of less at-risk kids some much-needed peace of mind. Tests for the biomarkers may be on the market early next year.
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