UNIVERSITY of Adelaide Medical Science researchers have found evidence that suggests asphyxia is a likely cause or component of sudden infant death syndrome.

By Jack Baldwin

Photo credit: Kenziepoo via / CC BY

Photo credit: Kenziepoo via / CC BY

The world first study looked for the presence and distribution of a protein called β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) in the brains of 176 children who had died from head trauma, infection, drowning, asphyxia and SIDS.

All 48 cases of SIDS death showed APP staining, and the staining found was very similar to those in children who had died from asphyxia.

The leader of the project, Professor Roger Byard AO, Professor of Pathology at the University of Adelaide and Senior Specialist Forensic Pathologist with Forensic Science SA, highlighted the real world importance of the research.

“The staining by itself does not necessarily tell us the cause of death, but it can help to clarify the mechanism,” he said.

In one case, the presence of APP staining in a baby who had died of SIDS led to the discovery of a significant sleep apnoea problem in the deceased baby’s sibling.

“This raised the possibility of an inherited sleep apnoea problem, and this knowledge could be enough to help save a child’s life,” the Professor said.

“Because of the remarkable similarity in SIDS and asphyxia cases, the question is now: is there an asphyxia based mechanism of death in SIDS? We don’t know the answer to that yet, but it looks very promising.”

“This work also fits in very well with collaborative research that is currently being undertaken between the University of Adelaide and Harvard University, on chemical changes in parts of the brain that control breathing.”

The results of the study have been published in the journal Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology. The study was conducted by visiting postdoctoral research Dr Lisbeth Jensen from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, and funded by SIDS and Kids South Australia.