A sleep expert who lost her son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and spent the last 30 years looking for an answer for the inexplicable the disease may have made a breakthrough discovery helping to solve the puzzle.
Dr Carmel Harrington makes world’s first breakthrough in identifying a baby’s vulnerability to SIDS https://t.co/QUkuLuzI3e
— Nix Olympia News (@NixOlympiaNews) May 9, 2022
My research started 29 years ago with the death of my precious son, Damien. Long and challenging work, but now we know that SIDS babies have low levels of the enzyme BChE. First time ever we can work with babies while still alive and prevent SIDS. https://t.co/70miO5lfLA
— Carmel Harrington (@CarmelHarring18) May 9, 2022
Dr. Carmel Harrington, who has a PHD in Sleep Medicine from Sydney University in Australia, lost her two-year-old son Damien to SIDS in 1991.
Now a study she has led has identified the first biochemical marker that could help detect babies more at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) while they still live. “An apparently healthy baby going to sleep and not waking up is every parent’s nightmare and until now there was absolutely no way of knowing which infant would succumb. But that’s not the case anymore,” Harrington asserted.
Researchers led by Harrington identified Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) as the biochemical marker that could help solve SIDS.
“The study found BChE levels were significantly lower in babies who subsequently died of SIDS compared to living controls and other infant deaths,” Sydney Children’s Hospital Network reported, adding, “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.”
The study published in the The Lancet’s eBioMedicine analyzed BChE activity in 722 dried blood spots (DBS) taken at birth as part of the Newborn Screening Program. The study stated:
In recent years, the incidence of SIDS has been more than halved by public health campaigns however, despite this dramatic decline in incidence, SIDS remains the major cause of sudden and unexpected death in infants in western countries, contributing to almost 50% of all post-neonatal deaths.
The study explained that widespread current belief of the causes of SIDS rest on three simultaneous factors: “a vulnerable infant, a critical developmental period for homeostatic control and an exogenous stressor,” adding, “Despite intensive research over the past decades, identification of any specific vulnerability has remained elusive.”
Harrington stated, “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.”
“This has long been thought to be the case, but up to now we didn’t know what was causing the lack of arousal,” she commented. “Now that we know that BChE is involved we can begin to change the outcome for these babies and make SIDS a thing of the past.”
“This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally gives answers to parents who have lost their children so tragically. These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault,” she concluded.