Laboratory of Niranjan S. Karnik, MD, PhD

The Karnik Lab is focused on community-based interventions for high-risk populations with psychiatric and substance use disorders. In the past, he has worked with refugee children on the Pakistan-Afghan border, street children in India, foster youth in Central Illinois, and incarcerated youth in California. He worked at a youth homeless shelter in San Francisco and is continuing this work with homeless youth in Chicago. Another major focus of his research is on using mobile health technologies to bridge the needs of vulnerable populations and enable providers to deliver services to underserved populations.

Dr. Karnik is based in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the Section of Population Behavioral Health and maintains appointments in the Section of Child Psychiatry and at the College of Nursing at Rush University. He served as medical director of The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and their Families at Rush. Finally, he is Co-Director of the KL2 Training Program and Director of the Center for Underserved Populations & Innovative Intervention at the Rush-University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine.

Our work

Dr. Karnik has several ongoing research projects. If you have questions about this research, please email senior research coordinator Randy Boley or call (312) 563-6645.

New Interventions for Substance Misuse

Substance use disorders are widely acknowledged as a major source of medical and psychiatric difficulties for patients and families. Dr. Karnik has been working with populations that disproportionately face challenges with substance use including alcohol, illicit drugs, cannabis and opiates. He and his team are working to develop scalable and population-based strategies for treatment of these disorders, and for expanding access the care. In addition, he has support for this research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and also has had a training grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

For more information see identifier# NCT02703116.

Collaborators: Kathy Delaney, PhD, PMH-NP, FAAN (Rush University), Mark Pollack, MD (Rush University), Robert Garofalo, MD, MPH (Lurie Children’s Hospital/Northwestern), Lisa Kuhns, PhD, MPH (Lurie Children’s Hospital/Northwestern), Geri Donenberg, PhD (University of Illinois at Chicago), John Schneider, MD, MPH (University of Chicago)

Funders: National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA041071 & UG1 DA049467), Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (U79 TI025387)

The Stepping Stone Project

The primary purpose of this study is to examine the acceptability of delivering mental health interventions to abused homeless youth via smartphone technology. Additionally, we are investigating the extent to which these interventions improve trauma-related psychological symptoms and are aiming to establish smartphone usage patterns among homeless youth to inform future technology-based interventions. To accomplish this, we are providing homeless youth from the Night Ministry Shelter with a smartphone and offering them several therapeutic interventions over the phone: three brief cognitive behavioral therapy sessions with a therapist, the ability to text or call the therapist between sessions, two applications designed to improve relaxation and sleep hygiene, and daily health tips via push notifications.

Collaborators: Alyson Zalta, PhD (University of California, Irvine), Stephen Schueller, PhD (University of California, Irvine), Dominika Winiarski (Rush), Dale Smith (Rush/Olivet Nazarrene University), The Night Ministry

Funders: Hedge Funds Care/Help for ChildrenSparrow Mobile, State of Illinois/SAMHSA TTI

Computation and Systems-Based Approaches to Substance Misuse

Dr. Karnik designed and launched the Substance Use Intervention Team (SUIT) at Rush. Research on this model is ongoing but the preliminary results show significant clinical impact and reduced length of stay from using this model. The program is also expanding via collaboration with the Afshar Lab at Loyola University to examine the ways that Natural Language Processing can be used to identify high-risk patients and to help guide targeted interventions.


Funders: National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA041071 & UG1 DA049467), Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (U79 TI025387)

Military Veterans & Families

As the former medical director of The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and their Families at Rush, Dr. Karnik helped support research on PTSD among veterans, military sexual trauma, and treatment of miltary families. He continues at the Road Home Program as a Senior Advisor and researcher.

Funders: Bob Woodruff FoundationWounded Warrior ProjectChicago Foundation for WomenField FoundationMcCormick Foundation/Welcome Back Veterans Initiative

Selected publications

  1. Thompson HM, Hill K, Jadhav R, Webb T, Pollack MH, Karnik NS. The Substance Use Intervention Team: A preliminary analysis of a population-level strategy to address the opioid crisis at an academic health center. Journal of addiction medicine. Forthcoming; NIHMSID: NIHMS1521053.

  2. Karnik NS, Winiarski DA. Editorial: Bullying and Suicide Risk: Restructuring Prevention, Identification, and Treatment to Address a Global Mental Health Crisis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019 Sep;58(9):851-852. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2019.04.007. Epub 2019 Apr 29. PubMed PMID: 31047990.

  3. Held P, Klassen BJ, Boley RA, Wiltsey Stirman S, Smith DL, Brennan MB, Van Horn R, Pollack MH, Karnik NS, Zalta AK. Feasibility of a 3-week intensive treatment program for service members and veterans with PTSD. Psychol Trauma. 2019 Jul 18;. doi: 10.1037/tra0000485. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31318250; NIHMSID:NIHMS1038871.

  4. Afshar M, Joyce C, Dligach D, Sharma B, Kania R, Xie M, Swope K, Salisbury-Afshar E, Karnik NS. Subtypes in patients with opioid misuse: A prognostic enrichment strategy using electronic health record data in hospitalized patients. PLoS One. 2019;14(7):e0219717. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0219717. eCollection 2019. PubMed PMID: 31310611; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6634397.

  5. Schueller SM, Glover AC, Rufa AK, Dowdle CL, Gross GD, Karnik NS, Zalta AK. A Mobile Phone-Based Intervention to Improve Mental Health Among Homeless Young Adults: Pilot Feasibility Trial. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jul 2;7(7):e12347. doi: 10.2196/12347. PubMed PMID: 31267980; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6632101.

  6. Thompson H, Faig W, Gupta N, Lahey R, Golden R, Pollack M, Karnik N. Collaborative Care for Depression of Adults and Adolescents: Measuring the Effectiveness of Screening and Treatment Uptake. Psychiatr Serv. 2019 Jul 1;70(7):604-607. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2019 Apr 26. PubMed PMID: 31023189; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6602801.

  7. Benton TD, Kee Ng WY, Leung D, Canetti A, Karnik N. Depression among Youth Living with HIV/AIDS. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2019 Jul;28(3):447-459. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2019.02.014. Epub 2019 Apr 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 31076119.

  8. Afshar M, Phillips A, Karnik N, Mueller J, To D, Gonzalez R, Price R, Cooper R, Joyce C, Dligach D. Natural language processing and machine learning to identify alcohol misuse from the electronic health record in trauma patients: development and internal validation. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2019 Mar 1;26(3):254-261. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocy166. PubMed PMID: 30602031; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6657384.

  9. Delaney KR, Karnik NS. Building a Child Mental Health Workforce for the 21st Century: Closing the Training Gap. J Prof Nurs. 2019 Mar - Apr;35(2):133-137. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2018.07.002. Epub 2018 Jul 5. PubMed PMID: 30902405.

  10. Winiarski DA, Engel ML, Karnik NS, Brennan PA. Early Life Stress and Childhood Aggression: Mediating and Moderating Effects of Child Callousness and Stress Reactivity. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2018 Oct;49(5):730-739. doi: 10.1007/s10578-018-0785-9. PubMed PMID: 29435696; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6089667.

Click here for an expanded list of published work.

Contact Information

Niranjan S. Karnik, MD, PhD
The Cynthia Oudejans Harris, MD Professor of Psychiatry
Phone: (312) 942-8085

Randy Boley, BA
Senior Research Coordinator
Phone: (312) 563-6645

Dr. Karnik’s Professional/Research Feed
Link to Twitter