NEW YORK — Scientists in Australia studying Sudden Infant Death Syndrome made a discovery last month that could offer hope to doctors in their efforts to prevent newborn deaths.
Researchers at The Children's Hospital in Sydney believe they’ve uncovered a biological explanation for what is also known as cot death or crib death.
"Unlocking the mystery of how this protein is associated with sleep dysfunction and impaired arousal in SIDS babies will be the next challenge for researchers," the hospital said in a statement titled "SIDS Research Breakthrough" published Nov. 17.
The study, carried out by Dr. Rita Macaalani and doctoral student Nicholas Hunt, looked at 27 babies who died from SIDS.
The pair discovered babies who died from SIDS had 20 percent lower levels of orexin as compared to a control group. Orexin is responsible for sleep regulation and causes a sleeping baby to roll over when they don't have enough oxygen.
It's important to note, though, that not all babies studied who died of SIDS had low levels of that protein.
"But when the levels were averaged they were shown to be significantly lower than in the control group," the hospital said.
"The lower levels of orexin ... indicates that the response to tell them to wake up was not as strong as in other babies."
While orexin is one of many factors that could lead to the tragic condition, the discovery sparked hope that scientists may develop a screening test to predict if a child could be at risk for SIDS, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Still, a screening test could be 10 to 15 years away.
In the meantime, parents are urged to follow SIDS prevention guidelines. Those include letting infants sleep in the same room as their parents or caregivers, but not in the same bed, for at least the first six months of their lives, and keeping blankets, pillows and soft bedding out of babies' cribs.
Along with devastating a family, SIDS leaves behind more questions than answers.
Anytime a baby under the age of 1 dies from an unknown reason, it's classified as SIDS, making it especially difficult to prevent.
"There's not really a sign that a baby would die from SIDS," Michelle Bushnell, charge nurse at Primary Children's Hospital in Utah, told PIX11 News sister station FOX13 Now.
"There's no classification. This doesn't happen to certain races or financial situations or things like that. It can happen to anybody."
Which is why discoveries such as the latest one in Australia ignite a glimmer of hope in so many families.
Angela Valerio knows the heartbreak of SIDS. Her third child, who was also her first son, died when he was 3 months old.
Dylan Valerio's father put him down for a nap and the baby never woke up.
"A lot of things ran through my mind because I was breastfeeding at the time. I thought it was something I put in my system," Valerio told FOX13 Now. "You just want all these answers."
Valerio hopes this possible breakthrough can save lives so other families won't experience her family's pain.
"I'd do anything just to hug him and squeeze him," Valerio said of her son. "We miss him tons."