Researchers Pinpoint Reason Infants Die From SIDS
May 12, 2022 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Researchers from The Children's Hospital Westmead in Sydney appear to have identified the cause of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome), which accounts for about 37% of sudden unexpected infant deaths a year in the United States. This could potentially lead to screening and/or other interventions.

The study "Butyrylcholinesterase is a potential biomarker for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" was published on May 6, 2022, and was co-authored by Carmel Therese Harrington, Naz Al Hafid, and Karen Ann Waters.

In the study, the researchers wrote, “This finding represents the possibility for the identification of infants at risk for SIDS ... prior to death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions.
posted by gemmy (10 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This is very welcome news.
posted by Acari at 8:48 PM on May 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

WOW! This is immensely important research. I'm so grateful for the researchers' work. Thank you for sharing.
posted by Toddles at 9:12 PM on May 12, 2022 [16 favorites]

This is awesome science! Here's to screening and keeping babies from not dying!!!
posted by Windopaene at 9:24 PM on May 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Super important news, AND a friend who runs a child fatality review team and is very in the loop linked to this and said there are common concerns in the prevention community about drawing too big a conclusion from the research.
posted by centrifugal at 9:32 PM on May 12, 2022 [13 favorites]

This is a really promising finding!

I think it's worth the caveat, the study's numbers do not so far show this butyrylcholinesterase assay being useful in screening for SIDS risk. But looking further along this line of work could lead to other measurements that can make a useful test, or possibly even treatments.

Why am I saying not so far shown to be useful? Table 1 and this plot: the two populations (SIDS cases and controls) overlap a lot in BChe levels.

Attempting to use this for screening, if we set a threshold to detect 50% of SIDS susceptibles (50% miss rate, not great obviously), and screen 100,000 U.S. newborns, we'd catch 16 SIDS susceptibles, miss 16, and also flag 23,000 others incorrectly as susceptible. Of the positive tests, 99.93% are false positives. Not useful as-is to parents or doctors. But this paper will surely spark a lot of research.

(By my math: SIDS median 5.2, which is 23% of the way up CDF for the control's 7.7 ± 3.6 sigma.)
posted by away for regrooving at 10:16 PM on May 12, 2022 [32 favorites]

Very exciting! My older brother died of SIDS before I was born. I hope this will eventually lead to something that will keep more parents from suffering the way my mother has.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:48 AM on May 13, 2022 [15 favorites]

As a new parent I can attest to the real, constant, almost irrational fear of SIDS that lingers all night, every night, until they are out of the danger zone. This is wonderful scientific news and I hope it can ease the minds of some future parents.
posted by HumanComplex at 6:17 AM on May 13, 2022 [18 favorites]

As an anxious person with (formerly) babies at home I did a lot of SIDS reading.
The idea is that breathing in babies is regulated by unconscious part of the brain (brain stem) but of course adults breathe both consciously and unconsciously controlled. So as babies grow the brain has to learn how to switch between these two different modes of control. The thought was SIDS is some kind of confusion when handing over control between the two kinds - each side “thinks” the other is controlling the breath, so effectively no part of the brain is controlling it, and the brain “forgets” to breath. Even finding just one key component in this sequence is important and as written above not a slam dunk solution but sounds like a big piece of the puzzle.

Lastly the lead researcher lost her own child to SIDS years ago and it is a touching example of a parents love to them dedicate one’s professional career to finding the true cause.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:31 PM on May 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

From the "Unfortunately there are some indications..." link...
"It has identified an enzyme that MIGHT be potential biomarker for SIDS vulnerability. And even that is a stretch."
I was gonna say! It's hard to identify THE cause for anything, to "pinpoint the reason" for anything, especially in the life sciences. I'm just automatically skeptical of a headline like that. Everything in biology seems to have multiple causes and risk factors. "Researchers have identified an enzyme that might be a biomarker for SIDS vulnerability" is a much more plausible sounding headline, to me.

Everything has multiple causes, but especially SIDS! From the same link:
"SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, with unknown cause (by definition). The underlying causes of SIDS are likely varied, and while there may be commonalities in many cases, there are surely a variety of etiologies."
It seems like you could at most identify the cause behind a large fraction of SIDS deaths. Because SIDS inevitably lumps together deaths from a number of different causes. It basically means "mystery deaths." Why would every mystery death result from the same cause? Some babies are going to have underlying health conditions that just haven't been diagnosed yet. And some will suffocate or choke in ways that aren't obvious to parents.

And one more important takeaway from that link...
"All we do know is that SIDS rates dropped a LOT with safe sleeping campaigns. That is just as important now as it was before this study came out. And we need to keep promoting safe infant sleep. But some babies will still succumb to SIDS, despite any measures."
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:16 PM on May 16, 2022

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