The British Telegraph reports a major breakthrough in understanding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Australian researchers have found a SIDS connection to low levels of a brain protein which regulates sleep arousal. SIDS, sometimes known as 'crib death', is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant where no cause is found after a detailed post mortem.
Researchers at Sydney's Westmead Children's hospital found evidence that babies who die from SIDS have low levels of Orexin, a brain protein which regulates sleep arousal. This is the same protein found in low levels in the brain of adults with obstructive sleep apnea, which causes pauses in breathing while asleep.
Dr Rita Machaalani, manager of the sleep unit at Westmead said that the evidence discovered is “hard core proof” of the theory that SIDS is sleep related.
“We’ve always known that because the babies die in their sleep, but this protein seems to be a major player in it,” she said.
Dr Machaalani said that the next step will be to identify the ideal levels of Orexin for a baby's brain and develop a diagnostic tool to help prevent SIDS deaths.
“If we can determine what’s the normal level in babies when born, than abnormalities can predict what kids might be at risk of SIDS or sleep apnea,” she said. Children could then be screened at birth to determine the risk of SIDS.
In Great Britain, just under 300 babies (roughly 0.3%) die suddenly and unexpectedly every year.