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Uncovering SIDS Mystery: Researchers Identify Potential ‘Biochemical Marker’ That May Explain It
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  • An explanation behind sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has escaped scientists and researchers for decades. 

    This has left many bereaved parents whose babies have died unexpectedly not only devastated and yearning for answers but wondering whether they could have done something to prevent it. 

    Biochemical marker to detect SIDS 

    Science may be a step closer to finding the specific cause behind SIDS after the Children's Hospital Westmead in Sydney released a study that identified a potential “biochemical marker” that could detect early on whether a baby may be susceptible to SIDS or not. 

    The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines a biochemical marker as "any biochemical compound such as an antigen, antibody, abnormal enzyme, or hormone that is sufficiently altered in a disease to serve as an aid in diagnosing or in predicting susceptibility to the disease.” Another way to think of a biochemical marker is a telltale sign, not the cause.

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    The same study also has confirmed not only how these infants die of SIDS, but why, according to an article in biospace.com.

    Newsweek reminds that the recent study does not mean scientists have found the cause for SIDS. 

    “What scientists have done is identify what may be a telltale sign, also called a ‘biochemical marker,’ in babies who died from SIDS, compared to those who did not,” reports Ed Browne on May 13, 2022.

    SIDS also known as “crib death” is when a seemingly healthy baby dies unexpectedly and suddenly, and there is no explanation for the cause of their death, according to Healthline

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    While considered rare, it’s the most common cause of death for children between ages 1 month to 1 year. The same site reports that in 2018, approximately 1,300 babies in the US died of SIDS. 

    According to the same biospace.com article, the medical community suspects that SIDS is 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.” 

    RELATED: Why You Should Always Lay Your Sleeping Infant Down on His Back

    Researchers in Sydney confirmed 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. Researchers found out that 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.

    Screening babies at risk of SIDS

    Leading the Sydney research is Dr. Carmel Harrington whose son died of SIDS 29 years ago. Like most parents whose babies died the same way, she was advised that SIDS could be prevented if a baby was put to sleep on its back, kept cool, and its crib free of toys and blankets, among others. 

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    While these preventive measures still apply, many parents like Dr. Harrington felt guilt and wondered if they could have prevented her infant’s death. “Nobody could tell me. They just said it's a tragedy. 

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    But it was a tragedy that didn't sit well with my scientific brain,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in an interview.  With these recent findings, she says, families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault.

    With the identification of a biomarker, the medical community is now a step closer to finding a solution or hopefully, prevention. “In the next few years, those in the medical community who have studied SIDS will likely work on a screening test to identify babies who are at risk for SIDS and hopefully prevent it altogether,” the biospace.com article ends.

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