SIDS and Kids PhD scholarship

SIDS and Kids have provided a three year PhD scholarship for a student to pursue research into the underlying mechanisms of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This has been awarded to Dr Emily Cohen.

Emily started medical school at Maastricht University in The Netherlands in 2006 and as part of her degree she undertook a research elective at The Ritchie Centre, Monash University in 2011. Her project was supervised by Prof. Rosemary Horne and Dr. Stephanie Yiallourou, who have an international reputation in research which aims to understand the physiological mechanisms which underlie the know risk factors for SIDS such as sleeping infant on their tummy and being exposed to maternal smoking.

After completion of her medical degree in 2012, Emily commenced working in the paediatric and neonatology department of the St. Antonius Hospital in The Netherlands. Emily has been able to return to The Ritchie Centre this year to pursue a PhD with the SIDS and Kids scholarship. In collaboration with Utrecht University she will be investigating the effects of intra-uterine growth restriction on the heart and circulation.

Intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) is when a baby is born too small for its gestational age. IUGR significantly increases the risk of SIDS and has also been linked to cardiovascular disease in adulthood, although the underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated. IUGR often results from placental insufficiency, which compromises the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. To protect itself under these challenging conditions, the fetus adapts its circulation and although these changes seem beneficial during intra-uterine life, it is believed that they persist after birth and “programme” the baby for life-long cardiovascular morbidities.

In the course of the next three years Emily will be studying growth-restricted and appropriately grown babies longitudinally within the first six months of life when the risk of SIDS is greatest. She will be looking at a variety of parameters that define cardiovascular function, such as their blood pressure and blood pressure control. The results of this study will provide us with more understanding of the “fetal programming concept”, which could lead to early identification of infants at risk and allow targeted interventions to reduce the risk of SIDS and adult cardiovascular morbidity.

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