Professor Neil Sebire, Professor of Paediatric Pathology, Great Ormond Street Hospital

Professor Nigel Klein, Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Great Ormond Street Hospital


Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is one of the most common categories of child death. Around half of cases remain unexplained using current approaches to investigation. Infection has been recognised as in important possible cause of SUDI, but tests used to identify infection after death are old-fashioned and difficult to interpret.

The ‘microbiome’ is the collection of tiny organisms, including bacteria and viruses, which live on and in the human body. New techniques are now available to reliably identify the type and amount of different organisms present in the microbiome. These techniques have never before been applied to post mortem records of SUDI cases.

Project summary

The aim of the project is to investigate whether specific combinations of infection-causing bacteria are associated with SUDI, and whether the presence of these bacteria is related to known risk factors for SUDI, such as sleeping position or infant age.

Great Ormond Street Hospital is one of the leading centres for investigating SUDI and has an existing database with thousands of post mortem details. Using this database, the microbiome of anonymised samples will be analysed using modern techniques. These results will be compared with those of the standard post mortem. Microbiome analysis can allow tiny amounts of DNA only present in microorganisms to be detected and identified, and may inform our understanding of the relationship between infection, SUDI, and other known risk factors.