Health Highlights: March 26, 2012

Human Gene Patents Overturned by U.S. Supreme CourtDeal Reached on Medical IsotopesFormer Vice President Dick Cheney Undergoes Heart TransplantBlood Thinner Drug Increases Bleeding Risk: StudyGenetic Variant Linked to More Severe Flu Symptoms: StudyBeef Patties Recalled Due to E. Coli Fears

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

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.


Former Vice President Dick Cheney Undergoes Heart Transplant

Former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant at a Virginia hospital Saturday.

Cheney, 71, has suffered five heart attacks since his 30s, the Washington Post reported. He underwent quadruple-bypass surgery in 1988, then two angioplasties as well as the implantation of a heart-monitoring device, which was removed in 2007.

According to the Post, Cheney, who was vice president under President George W. Bush, had been on the heart transplant waiting list for 20 months. He was recovering Saturday in the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital near Falls Church, Va., Cheney aide Kara Aherm said in a statement released late Saturday.

"Although the former Vice President and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift," Ahern said. She added that Cheney "is thankful to the teams of doctors and other medical professionals at Inova Fairfax and George Washington University Hospital for their continued outstanding care."


Blood Thinner Drug Increases Bleeding Risk: Study

An experimental blood thinner called vorapaxar slightly reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke but raised the risk of major bleeding, according to a new study.

The drug was created by Merck & Co. to prevent repeat heart attacks and strokes in patients who had already suffered one or were at increased risk due to hardened arteries in their legs, the Associated Press reported.

The study included more than 26,000 patients in 32 countries. After three years, about 9 percent of patients who received vorapaxar had suffered a heart attack or stroke, compared with more than 10 percent of patients who weren't given the drug.

Moderate or severe bleeding occurred in about 4 percent of patients taking the drug and about 2 percent of those who didn't take the drug. Part of the study had to be halted early due to an increased risk of bleeding in the head in patients with a history of stroke who were taking voraparax, the AP reported.

The findings were presented Saturday at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


Genetic Variant Linked to More Severe Flu Symptoms: Study

A genetic flaw that may explain why the flu strikes some people harder than others has been identified by U.S. and U.K. scientists.

They found that a certain variant of the IFITM3 gene was much more common in people hospitalized for flu than in the general population. The variant controls a malformed protein, which makes cells more susceptible to viral infection, BBC News reported.

Overall, the flawed version of the gene is present in about 1 in 400 people, according to the study in the journal Nature.

"Our research is important for people who have this variant as we predict their immune defences could be weakened to some virus infections," said study co-leader Professor Paul Kellam of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, BBC News reported.

"Ultimately as we learn more about the genetics of susceptibility to viruses, then people can take informed precautions, such as vaccination to prevent infection," he noted.


Beef Patties Recalled Due to E. Coli Fears

About 17,000 pounds of beef patties distributed in the western United States have been recalled due to concerns about contamination with the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7.

The meat was imported from Canada and shipped to restaurants in Washington, Arizona, Texas and Colorado, according to Sysco Seattle, Fox News reported.

The recall is for 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) boxes of prime rib beef patties with the product codes 55391 and 55317 and production codes 11 NO 22, 11 SE 01 and 12 JA 04.

E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and kidney failure, Fox News reported.


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