Scientists may have found the cause of the devastating sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
For many years the cause of devastating (SIDS) has remained largely unknown. After losing her own baby to SIDS, scientist Dr. Carmel Harrington and other researchers at The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney may have found the cause in a study that confirmed not only how these babies die, but why.
SIDS is the unexplained death of children under a year old and usually occurs when the baby is asleep. It has long been suspected that this phenomenon could be caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls waking from sleep and breathing. This theory being that if the child stopped breathing during sleep then they wouldn’t be able to wake up.
Previously, parents were told SIDS could be prevented if they took proper precautions: ensuring that babies lay on their backs, do not let them overheat and keeping all toys and blankets out of the crib.
While it is still important to use safe sleep practices are still important for protecting infants, lots of babies whose parents took every precaution still died from SIDS.
Lead researcher, Dr. Carmel Harrington, was one of these parents, with her own son Damien suddenly dying as a baby 29 years ago. Harrington explained to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that no one could tell her about the cause of her baby’s death.
“Nobody could tell me. They just said it’s a tragedy. But it was a tragedy that didn’t sit well with my scientific brain.”
Since then, she has worked to find the cause which led to discovering the enzyme Butyrylcholinesterase. This enzyme is significantly lower in the blood of new born babies who went on to die of SIDS compared to surviving children and children who died from known causes.
In a statement Dr Harrington went on to explain why this new discovery is so important for parents whose babies have died from SIDS.
“These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault,” she said.
Now that the cause is known, researchers are now turning their attention to looking for a solution. This will likely be working on screening tests to identify babies who are at risk for SIDS, and will hopefully be able to prevent it altogether.