Study reveals why some babies are more at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

The condition has been a mystery for years...
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  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome claims the lives of more than 200 UK babies a year, but breakthrough research has found it could be linked to a defective gene.

    Scientists have said that a genetic anomaly that prevents newborns from digesting milk could be the cause of some cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

    The research, carried out by the University of Washington, is the first to make a link between the mutation and SIDS – also known as “cot death”.

    Experts say the cells of infants with the rare condition – mitochondrial tri-functional protein deficiency (MTP) – are unable to convert fats into nutrients, which can cause a build up of unprocessed fats. This can cause a sudden cardiac arrest, which often results in death.

    The breakthrough research could lead to big things in the future – as the results mean that scientists could eventually test babies in the womb for the deficiency, with potential to treat it early on.

    Professor Hannele Ruohola-Baker who led the study said, “There are multiple causes for sudden infant death syndrome.

    “There are some causes which are environmental. But what we’re studying here is really a genetic cause of SIDS. In this particular case, it involves defect in the enzyme that breaks down fat.”

    Credit: Getty Images

    Hannele Ruohola-Baker, who also worked on the research said, “There is no cure for this [the mutation]. But there is now hope, because we’ve found a new aspect of this disease that will innovate generations of novel small molecules and designed proteins, which might help these patients in the future.

    “It’s very exciting to think that our work may contribute to future treatments, and help for the heartbreak for the parents who find their children have these mutations.”

    While the new research is very promising, it’s important to take into account that SIDS can be due to a number of different factors.

    According to the NHS, low birthweight, breathing obstruction and environmental factors such as tobacco smoke, can also be causes.

    Words by Lizzie Thomson