Current Projects

Great steps forward...

River’s Gift are committed to funding world leading SIDS research on our home soil in Australia.

We have pledged our funding commitment to the research of Professor Leanne Dibbens at the University of South Australia (UniSA), in collaboration with Professor Robert Vink and Professor Roger Byard.

Having commenced in late 2023, our additional funding of $200,000 across 3 years will facilitate the expansion of the SIDS biobank and matched database of clinical information from children who have died from SIDS.

Additional project information.

Project Title: ” Genetic Investigation of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – Finding the causes of SIDS”.

Project Summary:
Approximately 100 babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in Australia each year. The cause(s) of SIDS remain unknown, but there is evidence that genetic factors are involved. This study is designed to expand the UniSA’s SIDS Biobank containing biological samples from infants who have died from SIDS and from their biological parents. This is the first SIDS biobank in Australia and one of only a few in the world. The biobank will allow UniSA to carry out future studies to identify genetic variants that contribute to SIDS, with the aim of reducing or preventing the occurrence of SIDS. UniSA will undertake genetic analysis of samples in the biobank to investigate the underlying causes of SIDS. UniSA’s genetic analysis will involve sequencing the entire genome of a child that has passed away from SIDS and their parents to determine the underlying cause. By collecting and sequencing enough SIDS families, UniSA in partnership with River’s Gift can uncover the causes of SIDS which can lead to an early diagnosis of infants ‘at risk’ of this terrifying syndrome. With an ‘early diagnosis’ pre-emptive action and monitoring can be undertaken to reduce the risk of death in an ‘at risk’ infant.

Project Objective:
The aim of this study is to expand UniSA’s resource of biological samples and matched database of clinical information from children who have died from SIDS, our SIDS biobank. The SIDS biobank will contain genetic material (genomic DNA) and matched clinical information from SIDS children and their biological family members. The SIDS biobank will be used to undertake genetic studies to identify genetic variants that contribute to SIDS, which will potentially lead to the development of targeted interventions to reduce the risk of death from SIDS.


River’s Gift will fund the SIDS and sleep apnea laboratory as it investigates brain pathology of infants who died of SIDS.

In 2024, We are proud to announce the funding of $27,000 to Associate Professor Ms Rita Machaalani from the SIDS & Sleep Apnea Laboratory, University of Sydney (USYD), NSW, Australia.

Additional project information.

Project Title: Brain morphology, brain immune cells, and Orexin in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Project Summary:
Our laboratory has identified that the brain of babies who died suddenly and unexpectedly, and who were classified as SIDS, have differences in the morphology of the hippocampus brain region, in the expression of brain immune cells identified by microglia and astrocytes, and lower orexin neurons, a neuropeptide involved in regulating sleep/wake cycles. These findings are only a quarter of the findings we have identified using a large dataset. How these findings all relate to each other, within each individual case, and across the diagnostic groups, is yet to be determined. This study aims to run correlation analyses on the orexin brain findings with the microglia and astrocytes and other markers including neurotransmitters of acetylcholine and its nicotinic receptors, and growth factors, as well as the morphological findings (amongst which, the brain vasculature seems to be contributing and will be quantified for the first time to provide this correlation). The findings will shed light as to how all these systems relate to each other and help direct future SIDS brain research pathways, of which many exist, yet none found to date, to be exclusive to SIDS.

Project Objective:

Determine the connection between our findings to date, with particular focus on apoptosis, Orexin, dentate morphology of bilamination, and altered microglia and astrocytes.


  1. Quantify the brain vasculature in all the tissue sections we have to date (>800 sections) and compare it between SIDS and non-SIDS and determine whether they correlate to any risk factor,
  2. Compile all the data into one excel file and run complex statistical analyses.
  3. Identify connections between all the findings in our datasets, interpret the data and devise precise future directions for SIDS brain research.

Three publications will be derived from this work and they will acknowledge River’s Gift as the soul providers of funding. The data will be important since they will shed light on the specific role of the immune cells of the brain (microglia and astrocytes) and how they relate to each other in the context of SIDS. The connection with the Orexin findings will be unique to determine effect vs causation, and will direct whether further study of orexin as a biomarker to identify at risk babies, is warranted.