Exercise, Drugs Focus of Welder's Research
Wolfe, Lou Anne, THE JOURNAL RECORD
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. …