Areas of the brain that control memory, vision, personality and movement can be damaged by the highly toxic metal cobalt used to make the artificial joints. Recent research has found using advanced brain imaging and computer analysis, the areas and amount of brain injury from cobalt alloy leeched from a failing artificial joint causing brain toxicity can be detected and measured.
All artificial joints made with cobalt alloy may wear down and corrode leaking highly toxic cobalt into the bloodstream which can eventually injure the brain. This toxicity was unanticipated and despite cobalt being a major component of artificial joints, its long-term safety has not been extensively studied.
In comparison, other heavy metals such as mercury, lead and manganese have abundant scientific research detailing their known toxicity.
Dr. Stephen Tower, a Health Watch USA Board Member, has discussed this problem in a recent commentary (journals.lww.com/journalpatientsafety/Citation/publishahead/Hip_Metallosis_and_Corrosion_A_Million_Harmed_Due.99566.aspx) along with several recent reports that are now calling attention to the long-term dangers of cobalt containing implants and their all too common toxicity.
Unfortunately, removal of these implants involves a major surgical procedure and there is not a reliable laboratory test to predict brain toxicity. However, utilizing PET brain scans brain diseases can be detected years before they become clinically evident. These scans provide a straightforward and repeatable test to detect and measure early injury to critical areas of the brain and can be used to monitor treatment.
Stephen Tower, MD and Robert Bridges, MD have researched cobalt toxicity and what parts of the brain it affects. Their findings will be presented at this year's international meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging in Denver.
With millions of Americans having implanted cobalt alloy artificial joints, early detection of brain injury from silently wearing down or corroding artificial joints may prevent lasting brain damage.
As aptly summarized by Robert Bridges, MD, "Cobalt may be the 'new mercury' that needs to be dealt with. With better and safer ceramics, metal alloys and plastics, cobalt's use in artificial joints needs to be reconsidered."
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