Every year, doctors attribute the deaths of thousands of babies worldwide to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). New research has identified a possible factor for SIDS. But experts caution that the finding is a single piece of a complex puzzle.
The Creator understands medical mysteries like SIDS. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) And He gifts humans with the desire and ability to conduct research in order to help one another.
Each year, more than 1,200 infants under one year old die from SIDS in the United States. In most cases, those seemingly healthy babies simply pass away in their sleep. Sadly, doctors can detect no obvious cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, they can’t predict which babies are at risk.
This May, researchers in Australia published a study. They have identified a biomarker (a substance that indicates a disease or condition) that could explain how and why SIDS infants die. The discovery gave new hope that there may eventually be a means to preempt this parents’-worst-nightmare event.
In the study, researchers measured levels of an enzyme known as BChE in blood samples from 67 newborns who died of SIDS and other unknown causes. They compared the newborns’ levels with 10 samples from a control group. Researchers found much lower BChE levels in the infants who died of SIDS than in the control group. BChE helps control functions such as blood pressure and breathing.
The researchers posit that the lower BChE levels could make a baby physically vulnerable to stressors that lead to SIDS. So, a change in sleeping environment, such as pressure on the little body or something covering a nose, might have a greater suppressive effect on these infants. Those with normal BChE levels might maintain regular patterns of breathing and circulation.
Other research shows more potential biomarkers for SIDS. Several studies identified genetic variants related to heart, breathing, and brain functions. Those variants could also affect a baby’s ability to respond well to sleep environment factors.
The Australian study does not provide the final answer to SIDS. But it contains good science that offers some direction for future exploration. It also adds to the overall understanding of SIDS, according to Dr. Richard Goldstein. He says further research and larger sample sizes are needed.
“It’s a terrible problem, and any contribution is welcome to help to try to understand it better,” Goldstein says. “But there’s a lot more to know before we can call it a breakthrough.”
Why? Medical breakthroughs—like finding causes and cures—reveal God’s great love for humankind of all ages.