A new study may have finally answered one of the most baffling questions scientists (and parents) have faced concerning babies.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) accounts for nearly 40 percent of sudden, unexpected deaths a year in the United States. The cause has largely a mystery and a fear for many parents. But on Saturday, researchers from The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney, Australia released a study that finally unveils a most likely reason why these babies suddenly die.
Published in the latest volume of the Lancet’s eBioMedicine, the study found that the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) — an enzyme vital to the brain’s arousal pathway — is significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS.
According to Scary Mommy, “Dr. Carmel Harrington, the lead author of the study, lost her son Damien to SIDS 29 years ago. She was told to ‘go home and enjoy [her] living babies and have more.’ Instead, she quit her job as a lawyer and returned to her former career as a research biochemist. Since then, she has dedicated her research to finding a cause for his death.”
According to the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, BChE plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway and researchers believe its deficiency likely indicates an arousal deficit, which reduces an infant’s ability to wake or respond to the external environment, causing vulnerability to SIDS.
Dr Harrington told Sydney Children’s Hospital Network that the findings are game-changing.
“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 said.