Global Research Priorities for Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy Identified in Landmark Initiative

Global research priorities for tackling sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) have been published following completion of the first project to set out a research agenda in the area of sudden infant death by drawing on the views of both professionals and bereaved family members from 25 countries, including Australia.

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Ten research priorities, outlined in the paper Research Priorities in Sudden Unexpected Infant Death: An International Consensus in the journal Pediatrics, came out of the ‘Global Action and Prioritisation of Sudden Infant Death’ (GAPS) project, run by the UK’s Lullaby Trust in collaboration with Red Nose, the International Society for the Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death, and the American SIDS Institute.

Francine Bates, co-author of the paper and chief executive of the Lullaby Trust said: “The death of any baby is a tragedy for a family. That tragedy is compounded when a baby dies suddenly and unexpectedly and no cause is found. While sudden unexpected deaths in infancy are less common than they were 30 years ago, we must not be complacent. The GAPS research priorities now provide a clear direction for researchers around the world to make significant gains in tackling SUDI.”

In late 2015, Red Nose invited Australians to participate in GAPS by sharing their views on different areas of SUDI research. Now, Red Nose’s National Scientific Advisory Group will use the findings as one of the factors that informs our ongoing research agenda.

In Australia, around 1131 babies still die suddenly and unexpectedly each year at a rate of 0.4 per 1,000 live births. Since risk reduction campaigns began in 1990, the rate of sudden infant deaths has fallen by 80%2.

“While we understand the risks associated with sudden infant death, we do not know why apparently healthy babies and young children fail to rouse from sleep. Greater resources targeted at the problem are urgently needed,” Ms Bates added.

The 10 international research priorities are:

1. Studying mechanisms leading to death and how they interact with environmental risk factors.

2. Enabling best practice processes and systematic data collection for accurate classification of SUDI deaths to inform research and prevention.

3. Developing and evaluating new ways to make safe sleep campaigns more effective.

4. Understanding to what extent social and cultural factors affect parental choice in sleep practices and responses to risk reduction campaigns.

5. Identifying specific biomarkers to assist pathologists in determining the cause of death.

6. Understanding the role of genetic factors in SUDI risk.

7. Understanding what mechanisms underlie SUDI risk at different ages.

8. Conducting further research on the role of abnormal or immature brain anatomy and physiology.

9. Better understanding of the practice of sharing any sleep surface with an infant, notably how it interacts with other factors to make it more or less risky.

10. Identifying what factors are associated with SUDI where all aspects of recommended risk reduction have been followed.

To learn more about the GAPS project, download a copy of the Target SUDI Together report.


1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016). 3303.0 - Causes of Death, Australia, 2015. ABS, Canberra

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003). SIDS in Australia 1981-2000: A statistical overview. ABS, Canberra & Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001-). 3303.0 - Causes of Death, Australia, 2001-. ABS, Canberra