WSU News

Athlete researches link to concussions

 
Overlooking Martin Stadium, Cougar football wide receiver – and lab-coat-wearing
undergraduate researcher – Jared Karstetter. (Photos by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services) 
 
 
Karstetter in the lab.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Late in the first quarter of last year’s football game against Oklahoma State, junior wide receiver Jared Karstetter took a crushing blow from a linebacker who outweighed him by 30 pounds. Karstetter sustained bruised ribs and a concussion that left him a little woozy.
 
If he’d taken that same hit six months later during spring training, Karstetter would have been a prime candidate for his own senior research thesis examining the correlation between neck strength and the incidence of concussion among athletes.
 
On the field, he’s a six-foot-four-inch powerhouse and one of the top 10 receivers in Cougar history. Off the field, however, he’s a dedicated zoology major with aspirations of becoming a pediatric dentist.
 
A three-sport varsity athlete during high school, Karstetter credits his stockbroker father with keeping him grounded: “My dad always stressed the importance of getting an education that you can use, in a field that you enjoy.”
 
That advice, coupled with an interest in science, led him to seek out job-shadow experiences with several dentists and an orthodontist; this spring he’ll take the Dental Admission Test and begin applying to professional schools.
 
“Sometimes I wish I could focus on one or the other,” Karstetter said about academics and athletics. “I’m hardworking and like to commit and do everything I can, but at the same time it’s great to be well rounded. That’s something that the Honors College and my major have helped me with.”
 
His transcript features seven presidential honor roll entries and lists classes ranging from economics to Spanish to the history of rock music – all in addition to the science and math courses required for his zoology degree.
 
According to Karstetter, Washington State University’s unique undergraduate human anatomy lab (Biology 315) was an amazing experience that showed him the physiology of the human body first-hand. But his favorite class so far is Science as a Way of Knowing (UH 290), which focused on how scientific knowledge is acquired, refined and advanced.
Research opportunities
 
Karstetter in the game. (Photo
by WSU Athletics)
Karstetter and his thesis advisor, Kasee Hildenbrand, an assistant professor and director of the athletic training education program, are two of only a handful of researchers in the country investigating the neck strength/concussion correlation. 
 
“You can get a concussion from falling off a ladder at home or from a car accident,” explained Hildenbrand. “Sports is the only arena that affords us the opportunity to study subjects both before and after concussions.”
 
Using a $40,000 multicervial isometric machine on loan to WSU, Karstetter and Hildenbrand have tested the neck strength of more than 100 athletes from the university and Pullman High School. Surprisingly, they’ve seen only a few concussions among the subjects this year, but they continue to learn a great deal about neck strength.
 
The collaboration with Hildenbrand is not Karstetter’s first research endeavor. Two years ago, he approached his UH 290 professor, John Alderete, about the possibility of a summer research position in his microbiology laboratory. During both summers and again this fall, Karstetter put on his extra-large-sized lab coat, sat down at the bench and set to work with the tiny rows of test tubes and long, slender glass columns.
 
These days, he prepares protein samples using affinity chromatography, one of the protocols in Alderete’s investigation to affirm the relationship between prostate cancer and Trichomonas vaginalis, one of the world’s most common sexually transmitted diseases.
 
Recognition for #84
 
Busy as he is with academics, football and research, Karstetter’s resume is brimming with community service. He “really enjoys” serving as a peer academic mentor for first-year athletes at WSU and helping them adjust to the pace and demands of college life.
 
He has been a reading buddy at a local elementary school, participated in a student panel for the pre-health program, volunteered during Hoopfest and, along with his teammates, visited with children at the Spokane Shriners Hospital.
 
“A lot of people say I break the mold a bit since not many try to do science and varsity athletics, but there are so many people that have helped me out and been in my corner,” recalled Karstetter. “You have to put the work in yourself, but it’s been great.”
 
Karstetter’s natural leadership and on-campus successes have garnered attention outside of Pullman, too. He is a semi-finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award and the William V. Campbell Trophy and is a candidate for the 2011 National Scholar-Athlete Awards presented by the National Football Foundation and the College Hall of Fame.
 
The key to his success?
 

“Stay organized,” he said with a knowing smile. “Very organized.”