Searching for a reason for SIDS


Researchers think babies may fail to gasp when they need oxygen :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Researchers at the University of Chicago want parents to know that new findings about a possible cause of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, are encouraging, but a cure for the mysterious condition remains far off.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, examines how the brain regulates gasping for air. Children who die of SIDS fail to gasp when they are deprived of oxygen, according to the study's lead author, Jan-Marino Ramirez, U of C associate professor.

"To understand why they [SIDS victims] don't gasp we need to understand the basic mechanism that leads to gasping," Ramirez says.

The researchers say gasping depends on a critical set of nerve cells in the brain that are regulated by the chemical serotonin.

Ramirez says linking his findings with past studies shows that "children who die of SIDS have disturbed gasping mechanisms and low serotonin levels" which might be a key connection, he says, adding: "We have to be careful because there are many things that can lead to SIDS. I cannot say we found the key, but maybe we are on the way to discovering it."

"It's an exciting step toward understanding something that we haven't understood all that well," says Dr. H. Barrett Fromme, instructor of clinical pediatrics at University of Chicago Children's Hospital. "It's going to help us get to a goal much faster."

According to Ramirez and Fromme, the goal of SIDS research is to determine why one child is more vulnerable to the condition than another.

Ramirez says that both doctors and parents do not have any warning. Both sides believe there is nothing wrong until it is too late. If there was something that doctors could identify, maybe they could step in before the death.

In 2001, more than 2,000 children died of SIDS in the United States, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hope for the future may include genetic testing to determine which children are predisposed to SIDS so doctors can focus on preventing more deaths.

For now, Fromme says parents should continue to take traditionally recommended precautions, such as keeping tobacco smoke out of the home and putting children to sleep on their backs.

Ramirez says looking for a biological cause for SIDS helps relieve parental guilt.

"For the parents who lose a child to SIDS, it's very disturbing not to know what's going on," Ramirez says. "They feel guilty, like they did something wrong, and it's very important to know that there might be other causes out of their control."

Shana Wilson, Medill News Service


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