An Australia-first study led by the University of Adelaide could help identify the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), one of the world’s most tragic medical mysteries.

Paediatric pathologist Professor Roger Byard has launched a joint research project with the University of Aarhus in Denmark to study the presence of a protein found in some babies who have died from SIDS.

The project will investigate whether changes in brain levels of Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) in infants may be a marker for potentially deadly breathing difficulties. APP is a protein which accumulates in the brain when there has been an injury to nerve fibres.

Professor Byard said the brain tissue of about 200 children who had died of the syndrome in Adelaide and Denmark would be tested for APP.

 “It will help us to understand why these children have died because they may have trouble breathing and that’s not been shown before,” he said. “But it will also help with families who have already had a SIDS death.”

Professor Byard said researchers now believed that SIDS was not just one disease, but was due to a whole series of different factors to which infants were predisposed. About one in 3000 babies dies of SIDS each year in Australia.