Sudden infant death is the terror of new parents. Every year more than 100 children in Germany die suddenly and without any symptoms before their second birthday.

The Australian sleep scientist Carmel Harrington now wants to have found the cause of the still inexplicable cause of death “sudden infant death syndrome” (SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome). There is the prospect of identifying children at risk at an early stage and, ideally, of being able to help them. Their study was published in The Lancet magazine in early May 2022.

A team led by Carmel Harrington has discovered that an enzyme in the brain called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) plays an important role in transmitting signals. This enzyme is important for the “excitation pathway in the brain”, which is why sudden infant death syndrome usually occurs while babies are sleeping.

The researchers took blood samples from babies who died from SIDS and compared them to healthy children. They found that the babies who died had significantly less BChE activity in their blood.

The theory of the researchers around Harrington: If an infant stops breathing during sleep, the lack of the enzyme BChE means that the baby does not wake up or stir – it dies.

So far, there have already been many theories and assumptions, resulting in sometimes contradictory advice to parents on how to prevent it. It has often been advised that infants should not sleep on their stomachs, that they should not overheat, or that blankets and toys should be kept out of cribs. Sleeping in the parents’ bed was also criticized in some cases, while others see it as particularly important.

It is Carmel Harrington’s concern to relieve parents’ feelings of guilt, because time and again children whose parents have tried everything to follow the presumptive tips still die of SIDS. These parents often blame themselves and feel they have done the wrong thing or not done enough.

“These families can now live with the knowledge that it wasn’t their fault,” Harrington said in an interview with ABC. Now work can begin to make SIDS a thing of the past.

29 years ago, Carmel Harrington met his own sad fate. Her two-year-old son Damien died of SIDS at the time. “My son Damien died suddenly and unexpectedly one night,” Harrington told ABC. “It took me about two years to really breathe again, so I thought I actually wanted to find out why he died. Nobody could tell me. They just said it was a tragedy. But it was a tragedy that went against my scientific mind.”

In the following years, Harrington researched persistently to find the cause of SIDS – now probably crowned with success. She describes the success as a “Mother’s Day gift” that she received. Now there is a focus for future research to tackle the cause of cot death. “It gives us a focus for our future research. There’s still a lot to do. Now we just have to find the funds to do it,” she said at ABC.

To raise the money for the necessary research, Carmel Harrington started a crowdfunding campaign called Damien’s Legacy, named after her late son.

This article was written by Io Gorizia

The original of this article “Researcher finds reason for sudden infant death – after her baby died of it” comes from