SIDS breakthrough: Could this be the reason babies die in their sleep?

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****Trigger Warning: This content mentions the death of a child and may cause some distress to the reader.

Australian researchers have made a major breakthrough, that could eventually lead to babies being tested at birth to assess their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

newborn asleep

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney have discovered that babies who die from SIDS have lower levels of a particular brain protein, Orexin, responsible for sleep arousal.

Sleep unit manager Dr Rita Machaalani told The Healthy Mummy that while it’s still “very early days”, it’s a solid lead to explore.

“When we sleep we need something to go, ‘Alright now you need to wake up’. It’s this protein that makes this signal and because it’s decreased it seems to indicate that these babies don’t have this signal working to the level that it should be.”

Why do some babies have less Orexin?

The research team tested the brain tissue of babies who had died from SIDS, and found they had 20 per cent less Orexin. The researchers now need to find out whether these levels can be detected in a baby’s blood, which would pave the way for future screening of newborns.

There’s also the possibility that there’s a genetic SIDS link.

“We don’t know if it’s a genetic thing that hasn’t been detected yet either. These babies might have a deformity in the gene that controls this protein. We don’t know yet,” Dr Machaalani explained.

More research needed

The team also wants to explore whether these babies are born with a lower level of Orexin, or if something causes it to decrease in utero or once they’re born. The first step, however, is for scientists around the world to conduct similar research, in a bid to verify the Australian breakthrough.

For now, parents are still being cautioned to comply with safe sleeping guidelines.

SIDS Bereavement Support Services can be accessed by calling 1300 308 307.

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