Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: New Study Identified A Faulty Enzyme


A healthy baby going to sleep and not waking up is every parent’s worse nightmare. A potential breakthrough in understanding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) may just be the answer. 



Researchers from The Children’s Hospital in Westmead in Sydney, Australia found that babies who died from SIDS had a lower level of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), thought to be involved in the brains arousal pathways. This research has the potential to bring answers and prevention for parents who lost their babies to SIDS.



SUDDEN Infant Death Syndrome is a condition where babies die in their sleep. It is the biggest killer of babies over one-month-old, in wealthy countries. According to Statistic Canada data from 2015 to 2022, about 1, 700 babies under the age of one died in Canada per year. On average, one in 15 of those deaths occurred while the infants were sleeping. 

Research from Australia published in the latest volume of The Lancet’s eBioMedicine, analyzed blood samples of 722 babies, 655 were from healthy babies, 26 were from babies who had died from SIDS, and 41 were from babies who died from other causes. The study identified a biomarker, a substance found in blood samples of babies who had died from SIDS known as BChE. 



For years, many medical experts suspected that the cause of SIDS may be a defect in the part of the brain that controls arousals from sleeping and breathing. So if an infant stops breathing while sleeping, the defect will keep the child from waking up. The study shows that BChE is the enzyme that causes such defects. The study found that in babies who died from SIDS, their level of the BChE enzyme was dramatically lower. 



This study would potentially represent a target for intervention. It also leads to more questions:


  • How would babies be screened for low BChE enzyme levels?
  • Will their heart needs to be monitored, while they sleep
  • What about medication and or therapy?



Some experts are arguing caution with the study. Explaining that the study is still preliminary, and more work still needs to be done. Parents are advised to continue practicing safe sleep practices. Parents can take suitable precautions to reduce the risks of SIDS taking into account the steps below.



  • Put infants on their backs to sleep in the crib.
  • Don’t use blankets and or soft bedding in the crib
  • If possible breastfeed
  • Sleep with the baby in the room, but not in your bed
  • Prevent exposure to tobacco smoke before and after birth.



For families and parents who have lost their baby to SIDS, this study creates hope; And the faulty enzyme, potentially, represents a target for intervention.

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