New Lullaby Trust-funded study could prevent sudden, unexpected deaths of babies and children

An innovative new study funded by The Lullaby Trust is being launched, which could have profound implications for preventing the sudden and unexpected deaths of babies and children. The study, which is being carried out by University of Bristol, could allow babies at greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) to be identified by examining results from the newborn hearing screening test. Preventative steps could then be taken to help save the lives of those at high risk. The study also aims to learn more about unexpected death in older children and how we might also be able to prevent such deaths in the future

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome refers to the sudden and unexpected death of a baby that remains unexplained. Around 290 babies and toddlers die each year from SIDS in the UK, and it remains the largest single group of infant deaths after the first weeks of life. Unexpected deaths of older children are very rare, but we have much to learn about their potential causes and ways to try and prevent these deaths.

The study team are investigating the findings of a study conducted in the USA in 2007 that showed that although all of the babies passed the newborn hearing test, there were subtle differences in the test results of babies who subsequently died of SIDS compared to babies who didn’t. It is believed that the inner ear plays an important role in relaying vital information to other areas of the brain involved in survival and that if this region is damaged, it could be part of the underlying specific condition that leads to SIDS. Although it is not known why SIDS occurs, research has shown that there are processes that can be followed to reduce the risk of a baby dying.

Almost every baby born in the UK has the newborn hearing screening test and the process is standardised meaning that there is a wealth of consistent data to draw on. The ultimate aim of the study is to develop a screening tool at birth that would allow at risk babies to receive potentially life-saving monitoring and interventions. This could lead to a reduction in the number of SIDS deaths and spare more families the terrible pain of losing a child.

The research team is led by Professor Peter Fleming, Consultant Paediatrician at University Hospitals Bristol and Professor of Infant Health and Developmental Physiology at Bristol University. The study also involves researchers from Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital in the USA.

“This is an exciting opportunity” says Professor Fleming “For the first time we will be able to look for features recorded during life in a routine screening test that may help us to identify babies at high risk of dying unexpectedly. If successful this will have huge implications for identifying and potentially being able to help such babies in the future, possibly being able to prevent some of these tragic deaths. We are very grateful for the support we are receiving from the USA and from the Lullaby Trust in the UK”

The study is funded by The Lullaby Trust, who work to reduce the number of babies that die from SIDS by promoting guidelines on safer sleep that can help to reduce risk, as well as funding research and providing support for bereaved families. Since the formation of the charity in 1971, The Lullaby Trust has played a central role in reducing the number of babies dying from SIDS by 70% and aims to halve the number of deaths by 2020. The Lullaby Trust was able to provide funding for the study thanks to the kind support of Teddy’s Wish and the Gooden and Richardson families, who have themselves experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a child.

The generosity of additional donors including Jon’s Run, The Fred H. and Mary S. Dore Charitable Foundation, the SIDS Research Guild at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Joshua Rubens was vital in allowing the study to go ahead.

Recruitment for participants will start later in 2016, which The Lullaby Trust is helping to conduct. The Lullaby Trust is proud to support this important research, which could be pivotal in reducing the number of babies dying of SIDS and unexpected deaths of older children in the future.

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