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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 13:37 GMT
Cot death gene claim
back baby
Babies should be put to sleep on their backs
Genetic defects which may contribute to a baby's risk of cot death have been identified by scientists.

However, they concede that the study is unlikely to provide the only reason why babies fall prey to the condition.

But it could help doctors identify which babies are most at risk.


That gene could help us explain why babies have a higher risk than the general population

Dr David Drucker
The research team which made the discovery is based at the University of Manchester, and headed by Dr David Drucker.

It looked at the DNA of 23 babies who had died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and compared it to the genetic makeup of normal babies.

Immune system

Babies with three particular genetic differences were three times more likely to die from SIDS.

The genes concerned are important in the regulation of the baby's immune system.

However, even a threefold increased risk of SIDS over the average is still a tiny risk - the gene is unlikely to be the sole factor.

Dr Drucker said: "That gene could help us explain why babies have a higher risk than the general population."

Eight babies a week die from SIDS, and doctors still have no clear idea what happens in a cot death.

Studies have suggested that parents who smoke, and babies born underweight may be at higher risk.

Recent advice given by parents to place babies to sleep on their backs has drastically cut the number of deaths since 1990.

Cot deaths are more common in boys, and twins are thought to be at increased risk. Most happen within the first six months of life.

The research was funded by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death.

Dr Drucker told the BBC that he hoped the gene, combined with other factors such as the smoking habits of the parents and the birthweight of the baby, would help doctors pick out the babies who were at the highest risk.

The research was published in the journal Immunology.

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | Health
Cot death guidelines strengthened
07 May 00 | Health
Twins in cot death study
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