In 1974, landmark legislation—the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Act (P.L. 93-270)—gave NICHD the statutory responsibility to oversee sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) research. The Institute's ultimate goal is to eliminate SIDS.
To reach this aim, it is important to understand the underlying causes and mechanisms of the syndrome, to develop strategies to identify infants at high risk for sudden death, and to develop and implement preventive strategies that can effectively reduce the incidence of SIDS across diverse populations.1
NICHD outlined some of the progress made in understanding SIDS and its mechanisms in Targeting SIDS: A Strategic Plan. This Plan also identified and described several ongoing research efforts related to SIDS, including:
- Etiology and pathogenesis. NICHD seeks to understand how the neural abnormalities in SIDS infants develop and how they affect health and development before and after birth. Studies also examine how specific characteristics of the fetal and postnatal environment contribute to the pathologic process and whether genetic factors may predispose infants to SIDS.
- Prognostics and diagnostics. Research examines the efficacy of tools to assess the neurological and developmental maturation from fetal life through early infancy and of screening tools used in the neonatal period.
- Preventive strategies. NICHD leads studies and sponsors activities to support its goal of raising awareness of SIDS and how to reduce the risk. NICHD emphasizes the need for strong community partnerships to understand cultural variations in care and environmental risk factors, and to understand how multiple risk factors may interact.
- Health disparities. NICHD research focuses on the need for community resources and for the investigation of both protective and adverse forces that are at work within populations as a way of reducing the risk and incidence of SIDS.