New research indicates that a simple blood test may be able to identify babies at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The Australian study has been called “landmark” and a “world first.”

Lead researcher in the study, Dr. Carmel Harrington, was motivated by the loss of her own son to SIDS and has dedicated her career to SIDS research.

The study identifies an enzyme that is responsible in part for sending arousal messages to the brain and discovered the enzyme was “significantly lower” in babies who died from SIDS.

Dr. Harrington said, “This discovery has opened up the possibility for intervention and finally gives answers to parents who have lost their children so tragically. These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault.”

SIDS is the sudden death of an otherwise healthy infant in the first year of life, usually while sleeping. It is the leading cause of death among infants under one year of age.

The medical community has suspected that SIDS was related to the inability of the infant’s brain to arouse the baby from sleep when experiencing difficulty breathing. Now it appears researchers may have found an answer to the lack of arousal.

In the study, researchers analyzed 722 dried blood spots of newborns as part of a newborn screening program and measured the level of the SIDS enzyme marker, Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE). Infants who died from SIDS had lower levels of BChE than infants who died of other causes and healthy infants.

According to Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, the SIDS enzyme marker, BChE, “plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway and researchers believe its deficiency likely indicates an arousal deficit, which reduces an infant’s ability to wake or respond to the external environment, causing vulnerability to SIDS.”

Researchers are hopeful that this breakthrough will create opportunities to save infants at risk for SIDS.

The next step will be additional research to validate their findings. They also hope to incorporate testing for the SIDS enzyme marker as part of newborn screening and begin to develop targeted interventions to address enzyme deficiency in newborns.

Researchers say there is still much work to do, and there are no guarantees, but they are motivated to help parents have confidence that when they put their babies to sleep, they are safe.

Photo from Shutterstock.