Australian researchers are one step closer to solving the mystery behind Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden unexplained death of a child less than one year of age.
Researchers, Dr Rita Machaalani and doctoral student Nicholas J Hunt, at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead discovered babies who had died from SIDS had decreased levels of a protein called Orexin, which regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite.
The study, which involved 30 babies who had died from SIDS, found a 20 per cent decrease in Orexin, compared with a control group of 12 babies, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
However, not all babies who died of SIDS had decreased Orexin levels.
The publication explained: "But when the levels of orexin were averaged among the SIDS babies they were lower than in the control group."
"This response to tell them to wake up is not as strong as it would be [in other babies without SIDS]," said Dr Machaalani.
While there is still a long way to go, Dr Machaalani said, "It could be used as a screening tool, but first we need to know if this [protein] is changed in the blood, and those changes are seen in the brain. And then we need to look at genetics to see if it is inherited.”
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Dr Machaalani said the results support the theory SIDS and sleep are 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.
The next step is to pin point what level of Orexin is ideal for a baby’s brain.
"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."
Visit sidsandkids.org here for more information on SIDS and safe sleeping for babies.