Health Highlights: March 27, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Virginia Man Recovering Well After Face Transplant

U.S. doctors say they’ve performed the world’s most extensive face transplant on a 37-year-old Virginia man who was injured in a 1997 gun accident.

Richard Lee Norris received a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw in a 36-hour operation last week at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors said Norris is recovering well, beginning to feel his face, is already brushing his teeth and shaving, and has regained his sense of smell.

Norris has lived as recluse for the past 15 years and the face transplant will give him his life back, according to lead surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez.

“It’s a surreal experience to look at him. It’s hard not to stare. Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity,” Rodriguez told the AP. “Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it’s really amazing.”

The world’s first face transplant was performed in France in 2005 and the first face transplant in the U.S. was in 2008.


New Diet Drugs May Require Heart Risk Studies: FDA

New anti-obesity drugs may have to undergo studies to assess potential heart risks before they are approved for sale in the United States, according to a Food and Drug Administration staff report.

Outside experts who advise the FDA will soon consider applications from three California companies for the first weight loss pills to be introduced to the U.S. market in 13 years, Bloomberg News said.

The experts will consider whether “obesity drugs without a theoretic risk or signal for” potential harm to the heart “should be required to rule out” some level of cardiovascular risk before approval, the FDA staff report said.

The last obesity drug approved by the FDA was Xenical in 1999. Fifteen years ago, the fen-phen appetite suppression drug combination was pulled from the market after it was linked to heart-valve problems, Bloomberg reported.


Production Suspended at Three Plants that Make ‘Pink Slime’

The company that makes a beef product widely referred to as “pink slime” has halted production at all by one plant after a sharp decline in business due to a recent public uproar.

Beef Products Inc. has suspended operations at plants in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kan., and Waterloo, Iowa. Its plant in Dakota Dunes, S.D. will continue production, the Associated Press reported.

The company’s sales of what’s known in the industry as “lean, finely textured beef” plummeted after a social media eruption of concern about the ammonia-treated filler and hundreds of thousands of people signed an online petition to have the product removed from schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture told school districts they could choose to stop using the beef ingredient, and some retailers have stopped selling products that contain it, the AP reported.

The product has been used for years and meets food safety standards, according to federal regulators. Critics say the product is an unappealing example of industrialized food production.


Human Gene Patents Overturned by U.S. Supreme Court

Human genes cannot be patented, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday as it overturned a lower court ruling allowing a company to hold patents on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake City developed a test that looks for mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, the Associated Press reported.

The company’s patents on the genes were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a number of groups, including patients and geneticists.

In another case last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the laws of nature are unpatentable, the AP reported.


Deal Reached on Medical Isotopes

An agreement to maintain the supply of medical isotopes without the use of highly enriched uranium has been reached by the United States and several European countries, President Barack Obama announced Monday.

Medical isotopes are used worldwide to treat cancer and heart disease. Scientists have been working on creating medical isotopes using low enriched uranium instead of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to create nuclear weapons, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. deal with Belgium, France and the Netherlands was reached during a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea.

World leaders at the summit are trying to find ways to improve nuclear security, the AP reported.