Journal Record Staff Reporter
Allison Anne Welder can hold a living pulse in the palm of her
hand _ and does so, nearly every day.
With a doctorate in exercise physiology, pharmacology and
toxicology, Welder studies live heart and liver cells at the
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Specifically, her
research evaluates how exercise alters the body and causes it to
respond to drugs.
"And from that, my career interests have focused on drugs of
abuse, specifically the injurious effects of cocaine and anabolic
steroids on the hearts and livers of sedentary and
exercise-trained rats," she said.
Under Welder's care, heart cells in a culture dish continue to
throb with life _ a phenomenon she may never get used to.
"When I saw those beating heart cells, it was a turning point
in my life," she said. "It made me go to graduate school."
Placing the dish under a microscope, she urges a visitor to
see for herself. "And don't tell me you see them beating until
you really do," she admonishes.
These are the cells of physically fit rats. They get that way
at their own special swimming facility in the basement of the
College of Pharmacy.
Welder's objective is to develop alternatives to animal
testing, "so animals don't undergo pain and discomfort. We treat
the cell of an organ, instead of the animal," she said.
The rats are put on a swimming regimen for about eight weeks.
Their swim periods are the equivalent of a human going to the
YMCA for a routine swim _ in other words, the researchers don't
exhaust the rats, Welder said.
When the time comes to donate their organs to research, the
rats are put to sleep as if for surgery, so they are spared from
pain or suffering, she said.
The body of an individual who never exercises is different
from the body of someone who exercises three times a week.
Welder's research examines whether the two hypothetical bodies
respond to drugs in the same way.
"We know there is anabolic steroid and cocaine abuse by
athletes; are they more susceptible to heart attacks and liver
injuries?" she said.
To find out, the organs are removed from the rats and
separated into millions of cells. They are put into a culture
dish for a few days, and then experiments can be performed on the
cells in culture, rather than on the animals.
The heart cells are treated with a chemical solution which
breaks down the connective tissue and yields individual cells.
They are resuspended in a solution with the vital vitamins and
nutrients, and plated in a culture dish, where each cell
continues to beat or contract.
Cells are then placed in an incubator set at body temperature,
which supplies oxygen and humidity. …