Researchers from Sydney’s The Children’s Hospital have found a link between decreased protein levels in babies and SIDS, potentially taking us a step closer to understanding how to prevent the syndrome.
Dr Rita Machaalani, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Sydney and doctoral student, Nicholas Hunt, have spearheaded this new discovery.
They found a 20 per cent decrease in orexin, a neuropeptide that controls arousal and wakefulness, in babies who had died as a result of SIDS.
While not all babies who died had these decreased orexin levels, when averaged out they were lower than the control group, the researchers say.
“This response to tell them to wake up is not as strong as it would be [in other babies without SIDS],” said Dr Machaalani who also heads up the sleep unit at The Children’s Hospital.
Cause of death – ‘undetermined’
The breakthrough is especially important as many SIDS deaths are still marked as cause ‘undetermined’, much to the distress of grieving families.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “in Australia in 2013, 117 babies died suddenly and unexpectedly; of those deaths, 54 were identified as SIDS.”
Dr Machaalani and Mr Hunt hope the orexin link is a step towards identifying and recording SIDS tragedies more accurately and sensitively.
Despite this exciting advance, they say that screening for SIDS is still at least a decade away.
This is the second protein with a link to SIDS. In 2003, US researchers discovered high levels of a protein called cytokine in babies who had died from SIDS.
In 2010, research funded by the National Institutes of Health found that low levels of serotonin – the chemical that plays a vital role in regulating breathing, heart rate and sleep – were a common factor in SIDS deaths too.