Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2009

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

No Proof of Vytorin Cancer Link: FDA

An extensive data review of the cholesterol drug Vytorin turned up no evidence that the drug causes cancer, federal drug regulators say.

Following up on concerns raised by a patient study last year, the Food and Drug Administration examined all of the data from that study and reviewed available information from two ongoing large studies, the Associated Press reported.

But whether Vytorin, which is made by Merck & Co., is linked to a higher risk of cancer or death from cancer cannot definitively be ruled out, the FDA said.

WHAT TO KNOW

Vytorin combines two types of cholesterol pills, Zetia and Zocor.

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Disfigured Vets Could Receive Face Transplants in Boston

Seriously disfigured troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq could receive face transplants at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston thanks to a $3.4 million contract awarded to the hospital, which performed the second face transplant in the United States last April.

Under the Department of Defense contract, eligible patients must have lost at least 25 percent of their faces and could not be helped by traditional plastic surgery, the Associated Press reported.

The Pentagon said it hopes six to eight patients could receive transplants in Boston over the next 18 months. Military officials and doctors told The Boston Globe as many as 200 veterans might qualify.

Contract provisions require the hospital to assess results and determine if a transplant seems to benefit a patient's life, the AP said.

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Ex-CDC Chief to Head Merck's Vaccines Business

The former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon head Merck & Co.'s $5 billion vaccines business.

Julie Gerberding, CDC director from 2002 until earlier this year, will take over as president of Merck's vaccines operations, overseeing sales of its existing vaccines, development of vaccines currently in the works, and continuation of plans to expand vacccinations in developing countries, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

She assumes her new position Jan. 25, replacing Margaret McGlynn, Merck's recently retired head of vaccines.

Richard Clark, Merck chairman and chief executive, described Gerberding as a "preeminent authority in public health, infectious diseases and vaccines," Dow Jones reported.

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Brittany Murphy Likely Died From Natural Causes: Coroner

Actress Brittany Murphy likely died of natural causes, but an autopsy will be performed as part of the coroner's investigation into the sudden death of the 32-year-old star, authorities said Monday.

"Foul play is not suspected at this time because there were no outward signs of trauma or other injuries," said Capt. John Kades of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, according to People.

Murphy, known for her roles in "Clueless" and "Girl, Interrupted," reportedly collapsed in the shower and was pronounced dead upon arrival at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Initial reports cited cardiac arrest.

According to the web site TMZ, Murphy's mother, Sharon, told paramedics who arrived after the 911 call that her daughter had diabetes.

Rail-thin recently, the actress was fighting flu-like symptoms in the last days of her life and became seriously ill hours before her collapse, according to TMZ.

An autopsy will be performed as soon as possible, the coroner's office said. "Given all the worldwide attention, if we can get it done [Monday], we will," Kades said.

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