New SIDS study shines some light, but isn't all the answers
If you are a parent living in 2022 your news feed has probably been flooded with the exciting new study that journalists have claimed contains the news that we have found "the"biomarker for SIDS.
The heading for the published study is actually
"Butyrylcholinesterase is a potential biomarker for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome"
Butyrylcholinsterase is the biomarker you've read about, and as you can see by the title alone, it ia a potential biomarker, not "the biomarker".
The study itself states the implications of the evidence they discovered is
"This finding represents the possibility for the identification of infants at risk for SIDS infants prior to death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions."
Carmel Harrington was interviewed by newstalk ZB, she explains...
"What we found was that the babies who had succumbed to SIDS had a lot lower level of this enzyme than the other babies, this implies that babies are born with a deficiency and this makes them much more vulnerable. We also know that not all babies with a deficiency in this enzyme will die. its just a big risk factor."
"It’s going to be a minimum of 3 years before we can integrate this into our new-born screening program. We need to know much more about the system we are investigating, particular the arousal pathway. We need to know more before we can screen and implement appropriate interventions."
"For a long time, researchers in SIDS have believed babies who die from SIDS have an arousal deficit. Their arousal responses are much less than other infants."
"Normally if a baby is faced with a challenging situation or a life-threatening situation such as being faced down on a mattress, getting less oxygen, the arousal pathways in the brain go on fire and the baby starts to cry or move their head a lot.
Babies who die from SIDS don't do this, there arousal response is not so robust. Instead of responding to the challenge they sink lower and eventually into death. "
"I know in 3-5 years this will be a thing of the past. We need funding and trials, and then we will have answers."
While this is exciting, the AAP cautions the study has no real world application yet.
While the biomarker was lower in the babies who died from SIDS, it wasn’t completely absent, there was overlap in results from the controls and the babies who died, meaning we can’t accurately screen for babies who are predisposed to SIDS.
If we as parents think about this objectively and look at Dr Carmels interview, she points out that babies who die from SIDS have reduced arousal responses.
This means we want to avoid putting our babies in situations where they are in life threatening situations and their arousal response even needs to kick in! This means safe sleeping at all times.
If we do start screening for this biomarker, I would be nervous that people might take safe sleep guidelines lightly knowing their baby doesn’t have the biomarker.
When in reality, even if your baby isn’t in the higher risk category, there is still only so much an infant can do to rescue themselves if they are being suffocated by a pillow or duvet, or stuck down the side of a couch cushion, or having their airway compromised due to incline sleeping.
I think about research like this like finding the genes which make women predisposed to breast cancer.
We have the ability to screen for it, but it doesn’t mean all women who test negative for the breast cancer gene can stop checking their breasts or getting mammograms and living healthy lifestyles. The same goes for safe sleep practises.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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