• A team of researchers in Australia has identified a biochemical marker in the blood that could help identify newborn babies at risk for the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • The researchers used dried blood spots from newborn infants and screened the samples for BChE (Butyrylcholinesterase) level and total protein content.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome is the unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant.
  • It usually occurs while the baby is asleep, although in rare cases, it can also occur while the child is awake.
  • The condition is also called “Cot Death”.
  • Newborn babies delivered prematurely or with low weight at birth are believed to be at a greater risk of SIDS.
  • The exact cause of SIDS is unknown, although revelations from the new research look promising.

The Findings

  • Babies who died of SIDS showed lower levels of the BChE enzyme shortly after birth.
  • A low level of the BChE enzyme affects a sleeping infant’s ability to wake up or respond to their environment.
  • The enzyme is an important part of the autonomic nervous system of the body and controls unconscious and involuntary functions.
  • The previously conducted studies have found that low BChE activity is associated with severe systemic inflammation and considerably higher mortality after sepsis and cardiac events.
  • Prior to this research on SIDS, inflammation has been thought to be a factor in SIDS cases.
  • The mild inflammatory changes on the walls of air passages of the lungs were observed in SIDS infants as early as 1889.
  • Prematurely-delivered babies have been considered to be at a higher risk for SIDS, although a 1957 study that evaluated BChE in infancy found that there was no difference in the levels of the enzyme in premature and mature newborn infants.
  • Smoking during pregnancy is associated with a significant increase in SIDS events.

Limitations of the study

  • Even though BChE levels can be a possible cause of SIDS, the research points out that the samples were over two years old and hence would not accurately reflect BChE specific activity in fresh dried blood samples.
  • The researchers also added that despite analysing over 600 control samples, they are unaware of how common abnormality is in the wider population.
  • Furthermore, the study did not use autopsy details of the subjects of the study but used Coroners’ Diagnosis (when a death is reported to the coroner, the coroner investigates who has died, where, when and how the death occurred. If the cause of death is unclear, the coroner will order a post-mortem) where possible.


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