Individual Differences in Nervous System Development during Sleep

Grantee: Columbia University

We are just completing the extraordinary NIH-funded Safe Passage Study. The unprecedented amount of data collected from the 12,000 mother and fetal/infant participants is providing answers to the origins and mechanisms underlying SIDS, as well as generating new directions for research. One very promising direction is to gather longitudinal data on sleep development before and after birth. New technology now allows us to measure, non-invasively, the development of atypical fetal and infant heart rate patterns that provide indices of impaired brain co-ordination of physiology during sleep, which offers the greatest promise as the earliest “biomarkers” of risk for SIDS. We now have the ability to gather precise fetal and infant data in the home using small wireless devices (smaller than a silver dollar) at multiple time points throughout early development. Our goal is then to comprehensively examine, using non-invasive measures of postnatal infant brain activity (EEG) in those fetuses and newborns appearing to have altered trajectories of heart rate regulation. Such projects will require support for the training of junior investigators to carefully design, carry out and then scrutinize the enormous amount of data such studies generate.  We see this as not only important for advancing the scientific understanding of SIDS, but also as key to motivating a new cadre of scientists that will pursue development of accurate, non-invasive and timely risk assessment technologies which affords the best approach for protecting these vulnerable infants