Researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney have made a major breakthrough after discovering that babies who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) all have greatly decreased levels of a particular brain protein which helps regulate sleep arousal.
Dr Rita Machaalani says the discovery is “hard core proof” that SIDS is sleep related.
“It’s linked that there is a sleep related issue, which we’ve always known because the babies die in their sleep, but we didn’t know what it was linked to but this protein seems to be a major player in it,” she said.
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There is now hope that a screening such as a blood test could be developed to prevent devastating SIDS deaths.
“If we can determine what’s the normal level in babies when born than we can use those abnormalities to predict kids that might be at risk in the future of SIDS or sleep apnoea,” Dr Machaalani said.
While educating parents about risk factors such as avoiding exposing young children to cigarette smoke, avoiding certain sleep positions and not having a child wrapped too tightly or making them too warm when sleeping has reduced the number of SIDS related deaths, about 40 babies still die each year in NSW alone.
“Parents aren’t doing those (risky) things anymore and yet babies are still dying, why would one baby die and another baby in the same situation not die? There has got to be something underlying that,” Dr Machaalani said.