Local team involved in unraveling SIDS mystery

Low levels of serotonin in the brain may be linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of death among infants 1 month to 12 months of age. The body uses serotonin to regulate breathing and heart rate during sleep. SIDS is the sudden unexpected death of an infant, apparently occurring during sleep, in which the cause of death remains unexplained after a thorough investigation.

Researchers from Harvard and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego compared tissue samples of 41 SIDS babies with seven babies who died of other causes and five babies hospitalized with low oxygen levels prior to death.

In 35 of the 41 SIDS babies, serotonin levels were found to be 26 percent lower.

The study also found that levels of an enzyme important in serotonin synthesis were also lower in SIDS infants.

Scientists hope the findings will one day lead to a test to identify and treat vulnerable infants.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (

Enhancing HIV/AIDS treatments

A team of scientists at The Scripps Research Institute has identified two compounds that may lay the foundation for a new class of anti-HIV drugs to enhance existing therapies, treat drug-resistant strains of the disease, and slow the evolution of drug resistance in the virus.

The new anti-HIV compounds bind to an enzyme (HIV protease) essential to the virus life cycle. Compared with FDA-approved drugs that currently target HIV protease, the two new compounds are small chemical units (“fragments”) that bind with novel parts of the molecule. This could make future drugs incorporating the fragments’ novel structure a useful complement to existing treatments.

The research will appear as the cover story of the March issue of the journal Chemical Biology & Drug Design. (News release:


Communicating during disasters

UCSD researchers have launched a project to find better ways for emergency officials and first responders to talk to each other and share data on the ground at the scene of a natural or man-made disaster — even when the local communications infrastructure is out of commission.

The two-year effort will be supported by approximately $3 million in stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

An interdisciplinary team of computer science, cognitive science, electrical engineering and emergency medicine faculty in the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) plans to take WIISARD (Wireless Internet Information System for Medical Response in Disasters) to a higher level. This was an earlier UCSD project that developed devices and software for first responders and command center personnel dealing with triage and other medical decisions after a disaster.

The new project, known as WIISARD SAGE (Self-scaling Architecture for Group and Enterprise Computing), will explore group or collaborative computing in mobile environments, as well as self-scaling systems for disaster.

Field testing will take place during large-scale disaster drills in San Diego County; the first one is scheduled in May.

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.