Health & Wellbeing
Cobalt in medicine
Cobalt is an essential part of the lithium-ion batteries that give electric vehicles the range and durability needed by consumers.
Plants and animals
The cobalt in soil is taken up by certain bacteria in the roots of plants, where it is used to provide macronutrients (nitrogen-containing compounds) to the plants.
Animals receive low levels of cobalt through plants and water. Bacteria in the stomach of ruminant animals require cobalt and in turn use cobalt for the synthesis of vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for healthy livestock, and cobalt deficiency in farm animals, known as ‘bush sickness’, is cured by adding cobalt to soil fertilisers and animal feed.
Cobalt in humans
Humans ingest cobalt by drinking water and eating dairy products and meat.
Cobalt is essential to humans in the form of vitamin B12, which contributes to healthy blood cell formation and neurological health.
The use of cobalt in fermentation processes is central in producing biomolecules used in a variety of different roles in modern medicine. As a bio-essential element, cobalt cannot be substituted. Total use of cobalt in fermentation processes is less than 2% of annual consumption and cobalt is not found in the final products.
Cobalt is used as an essential element in cell culture media. Cobalt is important for nitrogen fixation by free-living bacteria, blue-green algae and symbiotic systems. Cobalt also plays a role in the metabolism of methanogenic bacteria, which are one of the oldest organisms on the earth.
The fermentation process, where cobalt is an essential component, produces important biomolecules utilised in many medical applications. Fermentation is used to grow large colonies of micro-organisms on a growth medium, often with the aim of producing chemical or bio-active products used in active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), tools for analysis, purifications and process development of API, production of antigens and antibodies and diagnostic devices.
Cobalt metal, cobalamin, cobalt metal isotopes (60Co, 58Co, 57Co and 55Co) are used in a range of applications.
Prosthetic Alloys – Cobalt metal used for hip and knee prosthetics, dental implants.
When it comes to medical devices, material choices are important. Prosthetic implants including hip or knee replacements need to be endure the stresses and strains associated with the movement of human joints, while also allowing the user freedom of movement and confidence that the implant will not damage their health in other ways. Cobalt-chromium alloys remain an important part of the sector as one of the major materials in the creation of orthopaedic implants.
Cobalt isotopes have also been effective in detecting brain and lung metastases, as well as locating tumours. They are also essential in detecting damage to the brain from a stroke or traumatic injury when traditional methods – Computed Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging – are not able to visualise the damage.
In medicine the cobalt-60 isotope is used as a radiotracer isotope, sterilisation for surgical equipment and most commonly, as a radiation source for radiotherapy.