SIDS research study offers clue to possible cause

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify existing medical advice for avoiding SIDS

(WTVO) — A groundbreaking medical study has uncovered the possible cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby under one year old, usually while the baby is sleeping. Its cause has long been a mystery to the medical community.

But a new study may have uncovered the reason why a child suddenly dies with no obvious explanation.

The Mayo Clinic suspected that SIDS was caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls waking from sleep and breathing. Researchers believed that when the baby stopped breathing during sleep, the defect prevented him from jumping up or waking up.

Now researchers at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, have reportedly confirmed the theory by analyzing dried blood samples taken from newborn babies who died of SIDS.

They found that the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was lower in dead babies than in living infants. The enzyme plays a major role in the brain’s wakefulness pathway, the researchers explain, which is why SIDS typically occurs during sleep.

“This finding represents the possibility of identifying infants at risk for SIDS before death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions,” the study researchers wrote.

According to the America Academy of Pediatrics, incidents of sleep-related deaths in infants declined significantly during the 1990s after the AAP and other groups began recommending that parents put their children to sleep on their backs, in a safe sleeping space. The AAP says rates have plateaued since then, however.

The medical community can now work towards creating a screening test to identify babies at risk for SIDS.

Paul N. Strickland