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A state of the art genetic biobank could hold the key to preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), potentially saving the lives of hundreds of babies who die from the devastating condition each year.

Developed by the University of South Australia, the biobank comprises DNA from 25 babies who have died from SIDS in SA. It’s the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and one of only a few that exist in the world.

The biobank was supported by funding from River’s Gift – an organisation established by Karl Waddell and Alex Hamilton following the death of their 4-month-old baby, River, to SIDS in 2011.

River’s Gift evolved from a pledge to Stamp Out SIDS and ensure that no other parent would endure the pain and suffering of the unexpected and unexplained loss of their precious child.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexpected, and unexplained death of an apparently well baby, despite clinical investigations, including autopsy.

In Australia, about 130 babies die from SIDS each year.

Professor Leanne Dibbens, UniSA

Could genetics hold the key to preventing SIDS?

Molecular biologist and Head of Genetics at the Australian Centre for Precision Health, UniSA’s Professor Leanne Dibbens, says the biobank will provide unprecedented opportunities to examine genetic factors that have contributed to SIDS.

‘Within Australia and internationally, research into SIDS is not as active as it once was,’ said Professor Dibbens.

‘This is mainly due to successful education campaigns such as “safe sleeping” of infants, which has significantly reduced the incidence of SIDS. Yet, every year in Australia, about 100 babies still die from SIDS and we don’t know why,’ she said.

‘Our genetic biobank will enable us to analyse DNA from SIDS babies to look for genetic causes of SIDS, and by finding these, we will be able to test babies at birth to identify those who are at risk, with these babies being closely monitored in their first year of life.’

The groundbreaking research will also help identify mechanisms involved in causing death from SIDS so that future work can stop SIDS from occurring.

‘Every baby’s life is precious. This research will help protect all babies and families from suffering the heartache of SIDS,’ said Professor Dibbins.

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