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Health Highlights: May 3, 2006

French Face Transplant Patient Able to Smile FDA Approves Drug for Rare Bone-Marrow Diseases Diabetes Increases Risk of Early Death: Report Report Suggests Ways to Increase U.S. Organ Donations Huge Increase in Antipsychotic Drug Prescriptions for U.S. Children

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

French Face Transplant Patient Able to Smile

The French woman who had the world's first face transplant in November is "already smiling," a member of her surgical team said Tuesday when he showed video clips of the patient to plastic surgeons attending a conference.

The video of 38-year-old Isabelle Dinoire was taken three weeks ago. It shows her speaking French and, at one point, chuckling and faintly smiling, the Associated Press reported.

"You see the smile is quite natural," said Dr. Benoit Lengele, the Belgian plastic surgeon who showed the video. "It's not perfectly symmetrical but it's improving a lot since the results we saw three months ago."

Dinoire lost much of her fact last May when she was mauled by her pet dog. The transplant gave her a new nose, mouth and chin.

In the video, she said she has feeling in the transplanted area and is exercising her face to regain motor function. She can't fully close her lips and her smile is concentrated on the left side, the AP reported.


FDA Approves Drug for Rare Bone-Marrow Diseases

Approval to use an injectable drug called Dacogen to treat a rare group of bone-marrow diseases was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drug, also known as decitabine, will offer another treatment option for patients with myelodysplastic syndromes, which are marked by insufficient production of mature blood cells by bone marrow, the Associated Press reported.

It's believed that Dacogen promotes normal development of blood cells. Three clinical trials of the drug found complete or partial responses to Dacogen in about 20 percent of patients who received it.

Low white blood cell counts, low platelets in blood, anemia, fatigue, nausea, fever, constipation, high blood sugar, and cough are among the most common side effects caused by Dacogen.

Each year, about 7,000 to 12,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes, which are most common in the elderly, the AP reported. Weakness, fatigue, bleeding, fever, easy bruising, and infections are among the symptoms.


Diabetes Increases Risk of Early Death: Report

People aged 35 to 54 with type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to die early than people in the same age group who don't have the disease, says a British study of 264,000 patients.

The findings appear in the journal Diabetic Medicine.

"We did expect that people with type 2 diabetes would have a higher risk of dying earlier rather than later," researcher Henrietta Mulnier of Surrey University told BBC News.

These findings could affect decisions about how to deal with the disease and provide appropriate health care, she said.

"With people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes younger and younger, the figures are going to get worse," Mulnier said. "We really do need to focus on early detection and treatment."


Report Suggests Ways to Increase U.S. Organ Donations

In order to increase organ donations in the United States, more effort needs to go into showing people the importance of donating organs and in making it easy for them to make donations, according to an Institute of Medicine report released Tuesday.

However, the report ruled out the use of financial incentives as a way to boost organ donations. It also said the U.S. is not ready for laws that would assume consent to donate an organ unless a person has specifically stated they do not wish to do so, the Associated Press reported.

Federal agencies, nonprofit groups, and other groups must improve organ donation systems, educate the public about the value of donating organs, and increase opportunities for people to make donations, the report said.

"All members of society have a stake in an adequate supply of organs for patients in need, because all of us are potential recipients as well as potential donors," said committee chairman James F. Childress, professor of medical education at the University of Virginia.

The report said that about 90,000 people in the U.S. were awaiting organ donations at the start of 2006, the AP reported. In 2005, 7,593 deceased donors provided 21,215 organs. There were also 6,896 living donors.


Huge Increase in Antipsychotic Drug Prescriptions for U.S. Children

There was a 73 percent increase in the number of U.S. children taking antipsychotic medicines over the four years ending in 2005, an increase far greater than that seen in adults (13 percent), according to a report released Tuesday by pharmacy benefit manager Medco Health Solutions Inc.

Over that four-year period, there was an 80 percent increase in the use of a new class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics by people 19 and younger. These drugs aren't approved for use in children, but doctors can prescribe the medications at their discretion, the Associated Press reported.

While there has been a large increase in the use of antipsychotic drugs by children, they still account for a relatively small portion of the total. In 2005, 85 percent of antipsychotic drug prescriptions were for adults, compared with 15 percent for children.

There is some concern that these powerful drugs may not always be prescribed appropriately in children, noted Dr. Amita Dasmahapatra, senior director of medical affairs at Medco.

She suggested that some doctors may prescribe the drugs to treat children with behavioral problems, which might be better controlled in other ways, the AP reported.

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