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 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 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.

Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI)

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 of Drug Abuse and also has 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 of Drug Abuse (R01 DA041071), 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), 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 of Drug Abuse (R01 DA041071), 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

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. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA. 2019; 26(3):254-261. PubMed [journal] PMID: 30602031

Horwitz AG, Held P, Klassen BJ, Karnik NS, Pollack MH, Zalta AK. Posttraumatic Cognitions and Suicidal Ideation among Veterans receiving PTSD Treatment. Cognitive therapy and research. 2018; 42(5):711-719. NIHMSID: NIHMS971589 PubMed [journal] PMID: 30505042, PMCID: PMC6261529

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 and human development. 2018; 49(5):730-739. NIHMSID: NIHMS973974 PubMed [journal] PMID: 29435696, PMCID: PMC6089667

Carroll KK, Lofgreen AM, Weaver DC, Held P, Klassen BJ, Smith DL, Karnik NS, Pollack MH, Zalta AK. Negative posttraumatic cognitions among military sexual trauma survivors. Journal of affective disorders. 2018; 238:88-93. NIHMSID: NIHMS969496 PubMed [journal] PMID: 29864715, PMCID: PMC6063798

Zalta AK, Held P, Smith DL, Klassen BJ, Lofgreen AM, Normand PS, Brennan MB, Rydberg TS, Boley RA, Pollack MH, Karnik NS. Evaluating patterns and predictors of symptom change during a three-week intensive outpatient treatment for veterans with PTSD. BMC psychiatry. 2018; 18(1):242. PubMed [journal] PMID: 30053860, PMCID: PMC6063006

Held P, Boley RA, Karnik NS, Pollack MH, Zalta AK. Characteristics of veterans and military service members who endorse causing harm, injury, or death to others in the military. Psychological trauma : theory, research, practice and policy. 2018; 10(3):352-359. NIHMSID: NIHMS881205 PubMed [journal] PMID: 28758768, PMCID: PMC5792372

Zalta AK, Bui E, Karnik NS, Held P, Laifer LM, Sager JC, Zou D, Rauch PK, Simon NM, Pollack MH, Ohye B. Examining the Relationship Between Parent and Child Psychopathology in Treatment-Seeking Veterans. Child psychiatry and human development. 2018; 49(2):209-216. NIHMSID: NIHMS932753 PubMed [journal] PMID: 28660407, PMCID: PMC5773394

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) 563-8387

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

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