SIDS: a blood biomarker discovered for the first time to detect babies at risk of cot death

Recent research has identified a specific blood biomarker linked with brain arousal, which could be linked to an increased risk of SIDS in children between one week and two years of age.

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La cot death syndrome (SIDS) is a leading cause of infant death, and until now researchers have not been able to identify any specific physiological factors that may make a child more vulnerable.

A team of researchers in Australia has now identified a biomarker blood linked to brain arousal, which could potentially be used to identify children most at risk for SIDS.

Infant deaths from SIDS have been significantly reduced in recent years as researchers have identified more and more of environmental factors which play an important role.

But despite these advances, SIDS still accounts for around 50% of all infant deaths in Western countries.

It is believed to be a multifactorial event, which means that it takes several factors occurring at the same time for a child to be affected. The current hypothesis for explaining SIDS is known as the "triple risk model".

This model suggests that three factors must merge simultaneously for cot death to occur: a physiologically vulnerable baby, a critical period of development, and an external stressor.

The researchers identified several factors of external stress which contribute to the risk of SIDS, from sleeping face down to exposure to the tobacco smoke.

(Read also: That's why you should never cover your child's pram in hot weather)

A systematic review

The new study focused on a particular enzyme called butyricholinesterase (BChE).

This plays a role in the brain's arousal system, and researchers have speculated that a deficiency may make a baby more vulnerable to other factors that contribute to cot death.

The researchers looked at BChE levels in dried bloodstain samples taken from 722 babies at birth.

Of the cohort of children, 67 died suddenly and unexpectedly, between a week and two years. Of the deaths, 26 were classified as SIDS-related and 41 were non-SIDS.

SIDS cases showed significantly low BChE levels at birth. So, according to the researchers, this indicates that low levels of this enzyme can make a child more vulnerable.

As this is the first measurable blood biomarker, which could be used to indicate the risk of SIDS, the goal would be to incorporate the BChE testing in standard neonatal screening protocols.

This could allow parents and doctors to identify high-risk babies, so they can intervene early and ward off premature death.

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Photos: ScienceDirect

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