You may have seen an exciting new study circulating around the internet claiming to have possibly identified a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) biomarker, a biological molecule found in the body that can be a sign of a condition or disease. In an interview with NewstalkZB, the lead scientist, Carmel Harrington, PhD, says the biomarker has the potential to be used in blood tests in the future to identify babies at high risk for SIDS.
The report has made big waves—but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this study isn’t reliable, and the findings aren’t significant enough to be used in a real-world application. Long story short, no underlying cause of SIDS has been identified, and there is not yet a way to test for an infant’s predisposition to it.
Harrington and her team’s study, which was recently published in The Lancet’s eBioMedicine journal, touts a compelling link between low levels of the enzyme Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) and babies who died of SIDS. Researchers working out of The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney used the blood samples from Australia’s newborn screening program to compare the BChE levels of 67 infants who died of SIDS against 10 babies with the same sex and birth date who survived.
While the study reports strong evidence that low BChE activity was associated with death, the AAP SIDS task force points out that while the blood levels are statistically different, there is enough overlap between infants who died of SIDS and the 10 control babies that the blood test method could not be used as a reliable predictor of SIDS.
“This is an extremely small study, with 67 cases and 10 controls. The authors themselves call this (in their title) a ‘potential biomarker.’ There is nothing definitive about this at all,” the AAP SIDS task force writes in a public relations statement. “It is definitely not confirmed that this is ‘the cause of SIDS.’ The current hype, while understand[able], is not warranted.”
While we await more research, and until healthcare providers can effectively pinpoint the cause of SIDS, there are plenty of AAP guidelines around safe sleep to decrease the risk of SIDS. You can read more about SIDS prevention here.