A group of Australian researchers has identified a biochemical marker in the blood that can help identify newborns at risk of developing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a breakthrough they say paves the way for future tragedy prevention measures.

In their study, children who died of SVDS had lower levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BHE) shortly after birth, the researchers said. BChE plays an important role in the excitation pathway of the brain, and low levels reduce a baby’s ability to wake up or respond to the environment.

The findings change the game and give not only hope for the future, but also answers to the past, said in a statement the head of the study, Dr. Carmel Harrington of Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Australia.

“Apparently, a healthy child who goes to bed and doesn’t wake up is a nightmare for all parents, and so far there has been absolutely no way to know which child to succumb to,” Harrington said. “It simply came to our notice then. We found the first marker that indicates vulnerability to death. “

Using dried blood stains taken at birth as part of a newborn screening program, the Harrington team compared BChE levels in 26 infants who later died from SVDS, 41 infants who died from other causes, and 655 surviving infants.

The fact that the enzyme level was much lower in infants who later died from SVDS suggests that infant SVDS were inherently vulnerable to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious and involuntary functions in the body, the researchers said.

Sydney’s network of children’s hospitals in Australia called the opening “the world’s first breakthrough.”

The inability to wake up when needed has “long been considered a key component of infant vulnerability” to SVDS, a research group at eBio Medicine The Lancet said.

SVDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby during sleep. Harrington lost her own child from SVDS 29 years ago and has dedicated her career to researching the condition, the statement said.

Further research “needs to be done urgently” to determine whether a routine measurement of BChE could potentially help prevent future deaths from SVDS, investigators said.

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