Yesterday, we started looking at the American Academy of Pediatrics campaign to highlight the “7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research” over the past 40 years. First on the list was “Preventing Disease with Life-Saving Immunizations,” and we saw how the HiB vaccine was able to reduce the incidence of invasive infections by 99%, changing the practice of pediatric medicine overnight! Today, let’s look and see what else is on the AAP’s list:

2. Reducing Sudden Infant Death with “Back to Sleep”

SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. In 1993 alone, nearly 4,700 U.S. infants died from SIDS.

Research found that if infants were placed to sleep on their stomachs, their risk of dying from SIDS increased by at least two-fold.


In 1994, the AAP and other groups initiated the “Back-to-Sleep” Campaign, encouraging parents to place their babies to sleep on their backs (supine) rather than on their sides, or their stomachs (prone):

Research showed that between 1993 and 2010 the percent of infants placed to sleep on their backs increased from 17% to 73%. Following the initiation of the “Back-to-Sleep” campaign, the number of infants dying from SIDS has decreased to 2,063 per year as of 2010.


3. Curing a Common Childhood Cancer 

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer. In the United States alone, about 2,900 children and adolescents are diagnosed with ALL each year. In 1975, a diagnosis of ALL often meant death in the near future. Only 60% of children under 15 years of age survived 5 years, and only 28% of 15-19 year olds survived 5 years.


The last 40 years has seen great advances in our ability to diagnose and treat a variety of cancers in children and adults. In 1965, only 10% of children with ALL survived 5 years. Today, as the result of cutting-edge pediatric cancer research, 98% of children newly diagnosed with ALL achieve complete remission within 4-6 weeks after starting treatment, and 90% survive greater than 5 years. In fact, the cure rate for ALL in children is 90%!


4. Saving Premature Babies by Helping Them Breathe

In the United States alone, 1 in 9 newborns is born prematurely, about 450,000 children a year. Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) is a life-threatening respiratory condition frequently diagnosed in premature newborns. Research showed that it develops when the immature lungs are unable to produce a compound known as surfactant in quantities needed for the infant to breathe.


Research in the 1980’s showed that administering surfactant directly into a premature baby’s lungs (through an endotracheal breathing tube) rapidly improved lung function and decreased morbidity and mortality, especially in very premature newborns. This discovery has more babies born early “surfing” towards recovery and healthy lives.


Tomorrow, we’ll look at the final three “Great Achievements in Pediatric Research” being celebrated by the AAP and pediatricians everywhere.