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Health Highlights: Feb. 6, 2009

FDA OKs 1st Drug From Genetically Altered Animals 1st U.S. Face Transplant Patient Leaves Hospital U.S. Soldier Suicides Spiked in January Traffic Deaths Decline in 40 States

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

FDA OKs 1st Drug From Genetically Altered Animals

The first drug made with materials from genetically engineered animals gained U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval Friday, potentially paving the way for a new class of medical therapies.

GTC Biotherapeutics said federal regulators approved its drug, ATryn, which includes milk from goats that have been genetically altered to produce an extra protein that acts as a natural blood thinner, the Associated Press reported.

The drug will be used to treat the estimated one in 5,000 people with a rare hereditary disorder -- hereditary antithrombin deficiency -- that leads to a lack of the protein, leaving them vulnerable to potentially deadly blood clots, the news service said.

Patients with hereditary antithrombin deficiency are currently treated with conventional blood thinners, such as Plavix. That approach won't change with the approval of ATryn. The new drug is only approved for intravenous use when patients are undergoing surgery or having a baby, when the risk of blood clots is particularly high, the AP said.

European regulators approved the drug in 2006.


First U.S. Face Transplant Patient Leaves Hospital

The woman who received the first face transplant in the United States has left the Cleveland hospital where she has been since her 22-hour surgery in early December, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Officials at the Cleveland Clinic said the woman left Thursday night, but would not say where she went. The patient, whose identity has not been revealed, and her family have declined requests for comment, the wire service reported.

According to the woman's surgeon, she is able to eat solid foods and breathe on her own for the first time since her disfiguring injury several years ago that left her with no nose, palate, or way to eat or breathe normally, the AP said.

This was the fourth partial face transplant in the world, although the others weren't as extensive, the news service said.


U.S. Soldier Suicides Spiked in January

There was a sharp increase in U.S. soldier suicides in January, with seven confirmed and 17 suspected suicides, Army officials said Thursday.

If all 24 cases are confirmed as suicide, the toll would be greater than the number of U.S. troops killed in action in January in both Iraq (four deaths) and Afghanistan (12 deaths), Agence France Presse reported.

Last week, the Army revealed that suicides among active duty soldiers reached a record high in 2008 for the second year in a row. There were as many as 143 suicides last year and 115 in 2007.

"The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said in a statement, AFP reported.

Last week, Chiarelli said special army-wide training sessions to boost suicide awareness among soldiers and their leaders would begin Feb. 15.


Traffic Deaths Decline in 40 States

Road deaths declined in 40 states and the District of Columbia in 2008, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association survey released Wednesday.

The average decline was 10.7 percent, according to the survey of 44 states. It did not include several large states, such as California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported.

Declines of 20 percent or more were seen in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Among other states included in the survey, declines were: 18 percent in New Jersey, 16 percent in Illinois, 12 percent in Georgia, 7.7 percent in Michigan, 6.8 percent in Florida, and 4 percent in Ohio.

Vehicle deaths increased in Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Higher gas prices and economic worries meant that Americans drove less in 2008, which reduced the number of road fatalities, Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP. But she also noted that seat belt use reached a record high of 83 percent in 2008.

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