Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Public Lectures on Cot Death - Kaarene Fitzgerald Lectures 2011

Last night - Tuesday 14th June - we held the 2011 Kaarene Fitzgerald Lectures, a public event held at The Ritchie Centre to honour the late Kaarene Fitzgerald and the outstanding contributions she made to better understanding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), more commonly called cot death. These lectures have been an important annual event on the Centre's calender since 2004.

Last night there were three speakers - A/Professor Rosemary Horne, from The Ritchie Centre; Dr Dawn Elder, from University of Otago, Wellington; and Dr Jhodie Duncan, from the Florey Neuroscience Institute, Melbourne.

Rosemary told us all about how blood pressure changes during sleep and how sleeping babies on their tummy lowers blood pressure a lot and decreases how much oxygen gets to the brain. This is thought to be a likely cause of a baby being unable to wake up during episodes of breathing difficulties and so help to explain SIDS. A baby is most at risk when she/he is 2 to 3 months old. Never sleep a baby on its tummy, always lay the baby on its back.

Dawn described her work in New Zealand, asking the same about sleeping positions but this time for premature babies in Special Care Nurseries in hospital. Premature babies are usually cared for lying on their tummy but parents are then told to always lie them on their back when they go home. How so? Dawn's results showed how babies in Special Care can be cared for on their back, just like at home, without any problems. Her work will inform how babies are best looked after in hospital and will better guide parents to care for their baby once they take her/him home from hospital.

Jhodie shared the research that she undertook during the time she spent in Boston, USA. She has been looking at some of the control systems deep in a baby's brain that regulate sleep, blood pressure and breathing. She has been particularly interested in special nerves that make serotonin. Serotonin is thought to be essential for some of our most basic functions such as breathing. Jhodie showed that the levels of serotonin in the brains of babies that died from SIDS was much lower than normal. She also showed that smoking - a major risk factor for SIDS - reduced serotonin levels in the brain even further. Jhodie's work is uncovering some key causes of SIDS and may lead to prevention programs for very high risk babies in the future.

Remember, smoking in pregnancy puts your unborn baby at unnecessary risk of premature birth and stillbirth. Smoking increases the risk of SIDS five-fold.

Every cigarette you DON'T smoke is a good one.

What a great night it was. Thanks to all the speakers.

Looking forward to the 2012 Kaarene Fitzgerald Lectures already.

Euan Wallace, Director

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