Researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead have discovered the activity of a specific enzyme called Butyrylcholinesterase was lower in babies who died of SIDS in comparison to other infant deaths.
The study looked at more than 700 samples of babies who had died from SIDS and compared it to other infant deaths and 10 babies who survived SIDS with the same date of birth and gender.
The research found the lower activity of the enzyme meant the infants had a higher risk of dying from SIDS.
Researchers said the enzyme “plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway” and a lack of the enzyme “indicates an arousal deficit”.
This means the babies’ ability to wake or respond to their environment is reduced.
Dr Carmel Harrington lost her own baby to SIDS 29 years ago.
She has since dedicated her career to researching the condition and this breakthrough could be life-changing for many other parents.
“Babies have a very powerful mechanism to let us know when they are not happy,” she said.
“Usually, if a baby is confronted with a life-threatening situation, such as difficulty breathing during sleep because they are on their tummies, they will arouse and cry out.
“What this research shows is that some babies don’t have this same robust arousal response.”
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She added this “lack of arousal” has long been thought to be one of the causes of SIDS but now this research confirms it.
It is expected to take another five years for further stages of the research.
“We are going to be able to work with babies while they are living and make sure they keep living,” Harrington said.