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Karina Gasbarrino

Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer

PLAKK Inc.

And - Post-doctoral Fellow, McGill University

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Trust the process and enjoy the journey that you are on. Be open to many possibilities.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a scientist at heart with over 10 years of experience in both basic science and clinical research in the field of cardiovascular medicine. However, more recently I took the leap into the world of entrepreneurship and co-founded a med-tech start-up called PLAKK Inc. As Chief Operations Officer I combine my passion for the cardiovascular sciences with artificial intelligence to develop a computer-aided diagnostic tool that will improve the prediction and prevention of heart attacks and strokes in both women and men. I am a strong advocate for women’s vascular health and am passionate about raising awareness on the importance of sex-specific research in cardiovascular disease.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

At a young age I became interested in the vascular system due to a devastating family experience. Believing that there was a need for more research in fields related to the prevention and treatment of vascular diseases, I joined Dr. Stella Daskalopoulou’s laboratory at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) as a PhD student back in 2012. This allowed me to become an active contributor to cardiovascular research. Dr Daskalopoulou was my greatest source of inspiration throughout my PhD journey. Her empathy, guidance, and commitment to support me helped me evolve into the researcher I am today. Her positive outlook and confidence in my research inspired me to push my limits time and time again. Moreover, she always gave me the freedom to explore various possibilities and my own innovative ideas within my research, which made my PhD journey all the more exciting and rewarding.

 

Upon completing my PhD, I was passionate about pursuing a career path that would take the knowledge I have acquired and apply it in a way that would push the boundaries of science beyond the ‘lab bench’ to create true social impact. As a result, I decided to undertake a new role as a woman entrepreneur in the life sciences. This has allowed me to transform a scientific passion (an idea that stemmed from my PhD thesis project) into a disruptive technology, through the creation of PLAKK, that has the potential to have direct and beneficial impact on the population at-large.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Growing up I have always been a perfectionist, which has been both my blessing and my curse. As a result, one obstacle that I faced was coping with the fear of failure, and to this day it still remains a struggle at times. However, throughout my PhD, I learned that the road to success is paved with many mishaps and mistakes and frustrating setbacks and delays. But if you learn from your mistakes and keep sight of your ultimate goal then the experience will be more fulfilling in the end and you will come out on the other side as an even better version of yourself. If it wasn’t for this uneasy path and the lessons learned along the way, I would have never felt ready enough to jump at the opportunity of starting my own venture. I would have always been searching for that perfect moment. Of course, from time to time the fear of failure creeps back in and in these moments, I make an effort to surround myself with my mentors and peers who inspire me and remind me through their experiences that giving in to the negative comments within my head will stop me from reaching my full potential.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

My younger self would have never thought that I would become the first in my family to obtain a doctorate degree and that I would start my own company based on an idea I am passionate about. But with hard work, passion, confidence, and perseverance, everything you ever dreamed of and more is possible.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

The reason I love working in STEM is because it allows me to learn new things every day and challenges me to think critically and creatively. On a daily basis I get to create new knowledge. I get to think about what nobody else has thought and investigate something I, myself, do not completely understand. Importantly, the greatest gift that being involved in STEM has given me, is being able to develop an innovative solution to a real-world problem. Every day I wake up hopeful and with purpose, knowing that I have the ability to bring real change to the world in a positive way.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

There is only one thing in life that is certain and that is uncertainty. We cannot control every outcome and things won’t always happen according to plan. So be patient. Trust the process and enjoy the journey that you are on. Be open to many possibilities. Everything you ultimately visualized, dreamed of, worked on, is in the process of manifesting. You just need to remain strong, know your worth, and keep believing in yourself and your capabilities.

INSPIRATION

Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live. – Mae Jemison