Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a devastating reality for some parents. But breakthrough research might actually shed some light on the troubling issue, and, hopefully, lead to some solutions down the road.
Researchers at Sydney, Australia’s Westmead Children’s hospital have made a connection between crib death and a lack of a particular type of brain protein, orexin, which helps regulate sleep arousal. The lack of the protein in question has also been linked to obstructive sleep apnea (the pausing of breath during sleep) in adults. Basically, orexin acts to wake you up when it detects you’re not getting enough oxygen.
“It’s linked that there is a sleep-related issue, which we’ve always known because the babies die in their sleep, but we didn’t know what it was linked to,” Rita Machaalani, MD told the Australian Telegraph. “This protein seems to be a major player in it.”
The knowledge provides something of a go-ahead plan for researchers looking to put an end to SIDS. The next step, says Machaalani, is to determine the healthy levels of orexin in a baby’s brain–then they can work to develop a tool to screen for risk of SIDS.
“If we can determine what’s the normal level in babies when born then we can use those abnormalities to predict kids that might be at risk in the future of sudden infant death syndrome or sleep apnea,” says Machaalani.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, SIDS remains the leading cause of death of healthy infants. That’s a stat everyone wants to see changed.
In the future, we may see medications such as a nasal spray designed to increase levels of orexin in the brain. And eventually, perhaps even soon, we’ll see an end to the heartbreak that so many families have had to face.