An Overview of Cobalt Radioisotopes in Medicine

An American engineer in the 1950s, Hal Anger, invented the gamma scintillation camera and made possible the use of nuclear medicine in the diagnosing and the treatment of illnesses. Although knowledge of radioisotopes has been around since the 1930s, its use was only speculative.

The first use of nuclear medicine’ as a method of diagnosis was in the detection and treatment thyroid conditions and in the treatment of goiters. Then further experimentation and discoveries moved forward and presently we have the ultra sharp diagnostic imaging systems that leave no part of the body undetected. Likewise cures are advancing but not at the pace of discovery.

Radioisotopes are minute bits of positively and negatively charged chemicals that when lodged in a part of the body emit brilliant pulsating rays that allow for camera equipment to focus in and show the radiologist the condition of the organ or area under surveillance. It is a form of diagnosis that is not without some danger from the powerful radiation that is used.

However, used only when necessary, and hopefully, infrequently, and when less invasive procedures would not give the same picture, the danger from radiation is minimal. Although as medical science advances in its methods to detect human illnesses and effect cures, radiation looms large as health hazard threats.

These new disease detectives work by the use of ‘tracers’ which are radioisotopes being bound to some other chemical compound and then injected into the body. (The radioisotopes are destined to begin their decay almost immediately and will be passed off from the body within a few hours without any harmful effects.)

In diagnosis, the invention of the PET scan (positron emission tomography) by Peter Alfred Wolf was the first use of radioisotopes to be used in medical science. This led to further advances in nuclear medicine. The CT scan (computerized tomography) followed, and now we have the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

By irradiating some cancers they shrink and disappear and this treatment is one of the best known cures for malignancies. Advancements have been in the use of radioisotopes and experimentation is going on at an enormous pace. These are far advanced from the first known radiation treatments. And in fact all heat treatments in some form are radiation treatment in that heat produces changes in the cellular activity of the tissues by speeding up the electrical activity of the area.

In this basic view then the discovery of this more profound method of sending more extensive heat without the accompanying means of destruction to all tissue is what this nuclear method of treatment is all about. Heat has many forms and when radioactive method is combined with an ability to penetrate where it is most needed without destroying anything except the targeted diseased area; it is good news indeed.

In some treatments, especially replacement therapy, whole areas of tissues are destroyed by radioisotope therapy: in marrow transplants this method is used to destroy the diseased marrow before injecting the new disease-free marrown into the bone spaces.

There seems to be no limit to the use of radioisotopes in medical science; they are used in blood test and in urine tests and in studies where more accurate data concerning the human body is sought. Also, these are used as sterilization methods for rendering medical equipment and tools germ free.

Other chemical that are used in nuclear medicine are Iodine-131, phosphorus-32; and more recently boron-10 as a radical tumor destruction agent.

See also: what are radioactive isotopes used for