A genetic cause has been found for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

SIDS causes 3,000 deaths a year, due to a number of causes, some environmental and some genetic. However, this is the first time a specific genetic variant has been linked to the onset of SIDS.

Newborns with the genetic variant have a defect in the enzyme that oxidises fatty acids. They are therefore unable to metabolise the lipids in their mother’s milk, leading to a dangerous build up of fatty molecules that can disrupt their heart function.

If the child has the mutation, it is possible that they will die suddenly in the first few months of life due to heart failure. The study demonstrated that heart cells grown with this mutation in the lab could not survive for long.

Although there is currently no cure for SIDS, it is possible that parents could have pre-natal screening to see if either one of them has the mutation. If the baby inherits the mutation, they undergo closer monitoring to try and reduce the risk of SIDS. As the mutation affects heart function, there is also the possibility that either adult heart drugs could be used for treatment, or alternative small molecule drugs could be developed.

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