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 Community Behavioral Health and maintains appointments in the Section of Child Psychiatry and at the College of Nursing at Rush University. At the Rush Medical College, Dr. Karnik is Associate Dean for Community Behavioral Health. 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 research manager 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 misuse 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), 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: Zalta AK, Pinkerton LM, Valdespino-Hayden Z, Smith DL, Burgess HJ, Held P, Boley RA, Karnik NS, Pollack MH. Examining Insomnia During Intensive Treatment for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Does it Improve and Does it Predict Treatment Outcomes? J Trauma Stress. 2020 Mar 26. doi: 10.1002/jts.22505. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 32216141.

2: Bounds DT, Otwell CH, Melendez A, Karnik NS, Julion WA. Adapting a family intervention to reduce risk factors for sexual exploitation. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2020 Feb 18;14:8. doi: 10.1186/s13034-020-00314-w. eCollection 2020. PubMed PMID: 32099581; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7029494.

3: Winiarski DA, Rufa AK, Bounds DT, Glover AC, Hill KA, Karnik NS. Assessing and treating complex mental health needs among homeless youth in a shelter-based clinic. BMC Health Serv Res. 2020 Feb 11;20(1):109. doi: 10.1186/s12913-020-4953-9. PubMed PMID: 32046711; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7014693.

4: Kuhns LM, Karnik N, Hotton A, Muldoon A, Donenberg G, Keglovitz K, McNulty M, Schneider J, Summersett-Williams F, Garofalo R. A randomized controlled efficacy trial of an electronic screening and brief intervention for alcohol misuse in adolescents and young adults vulnerable to HIV infection: step up, test up study protocol. BMC Public Health. 2020 Jan 8;20(1):30. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-8154-6. PubMed PMID: 31914971; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6950936.

5: Dickins K, Buchholz SW, Ingram D, Hamilton RJ, Braun LT, Karnik NS, Earle M. “Now that you’ve got that coverage”: Promoting use of a regular source of primary care among homeless persons. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2019 Nov 13. doi: 10.1097/JXX.0000000000000319. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31738276.

6: Thompson HM, Hill K, Jadhav R, Webb TA, Pollack M, Karnik N. The Substance Use Intervention Team: A Preliminary Analysis of a Population-level Strategy to Address the Opioid Crisis at an Academic Health Center. J Addict Med. 2019 Nov/Dec;13(6):460-463. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000520. PubMed PMID: 31689260; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6844647.

7: Glover AC, Schueller SM, Winiarski DA, Smith DL, Karnik NS, Zalta AK. Automated Mobile Phone-Based Mental Health Resource for Homeless Youth: Pilot Study Assessing Feasibility and Acceptability. JMIR Ment Health. 2019 Oct 11;6(10):e15144. doi: 10.2196/15144. PubMed PMID: 31605516; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6915810.

8: To D, Sharma B, Karnik N, Joyce C, Dligach D, Afshar M. Validation of an alcohol misuse classifier in hospitalized patients. Alcohol. 2019 Sep 28;84:49-55. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2019.09.008. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31574300; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7101259.

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