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Gene Variation Increases SIDS Risk in African-Americans

Gene Variation Increases SIDS Risk in African-Americans

      According to a recent study by University of Chicago researchers, about 5 percent of deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in African-Americans can be traced to defects in one gene. Half of those deaths result from a common genetic variation that increases an infant’s risk of developing an abnormal heart rhythm during times of environmental stress. The report appears in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

      Infants with two copies of the genetic variation are 24 times more likely to die suddenly than children with one or no copies of the gene. One out of nine African-Americans carries one copy of the common variant.

      “The common polymorphism alone does not cause SIDS,” says Dr. Steven Goldstein, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and director of the study. “Our findings suggest, however, that it renders infants vulnerable to environmental challenges — such as a long pause in respiration — that are tolerated by children without the mutation.”

      “The hope,” he says, “is that findings like this may one day allow us to intervene. We might screen to identify children at high risk and teach parents how to lessen the likelihood of secondary challenges. We have already begun to evaluate drugs that may mitigate the risk.”

      SIDS — the sudden and unanticipated death of an infant with no detectable lethal disorder — is the leading cause of infant deaths in the United States, representing nearly one-third of deaths between one month and one year of age. African-American infants are three times more likely to die of SIDS than Whites, and six times more likely than Hispanics and Asians, suggesting that genetics plays an important role.

      The researchers studied the tissue samples of 133 Black SIDS victims and compared the results with tissue samples from 1,056 African-American adults with no known health problems.

      Repetition of the findings would “lead us to consider genetic screening in African-Americans in at least three situations,” the report says. The situations include, “Infants with acute life-threatening events, siblings of SIDS victims and couples that experience infertility or fetal demise.”

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