Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), colloquially known as “crib death,” is an unexpected death with no apparent cause that usually occurs between the first and sixth month of a baby’s life, and usually It happens while they sleep. It is very rare that it happens before the first month and after the first year.
Despite being a cause of death in children that has been studied for many years, until now it had not been exactly identified what causes it, but it was known to be associated with problems in childhood sleep. However, a groundbreaking study by a doctor who lost her two-year-old son seems to have revealed the possible cause of this syndrome.
Dr. Carmel Harrington is an expert in sleep, since after losing her son Damien to crib death in 1991, she did a doctorate at the University of Sydney in Australia, in order to discover what causes sleep. the babies die.
Since then, he has dedicated his life to finding the root of this condition, and according to his study conducted at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney to be published in The Lancet’s eBioMedicine journal in June 2022, it is likely that after 29 years of Damien’s death, I have finally found a solid reason that will be of great help in the future.
For many years, scientists have associated the cause of crib death with malfunctions or sleep problems that cause babies not to wake up if they stop breathing while sleeping. However, the study conducted by Dr. Harrington shows that what causes it has to do with the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE).
It turns out that this enzyme is vital in the brain’s arousal pathway, and found to be lower in babies who died of SIDS compared to other children. Therefore, the researchers believe that it is due to an activation deficit, which causes the babies’ ability to wake up or respond to the external environment to be reduced.
To carry out this study, dried blood samples from 722 babies were analyzed, of which 67 died from crib death, along with 10 samples from children born on the same day and of the same sex as those who died from SIDS. The results of these samples show that infants who had crib death had lower levels of BChE a few days after birth.
Babies have a very powerful mechanism to let us know when they are not happy. Usually, if a baby is faced with a life-threatening situation for her, such as difficulty breathing in her sleep because she is on her tummy, she will wake up and cry. What this research shows is that some babies don’t have this same robust arousal response.
– Dr. Carmel Harrington
When Dr. Harrington lost her son nearly 30 years ago, hospital staff told her to ‘come home and enjoy your children who are still alive’. However, she made the decision to quit her job as a lawyer and resume her career as a research biochemist. What has led her to dedicate part of her life to an exhaustive investigation to find the cause of this type of death.