Alessia Fornoni, M.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension and the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Fornoni obtained her MD and her PhD degree in Medical Pharmacology at the Universita’ degli Studi di Pavia (Italy). She later joined the laboratory of Renal Cell Biology (Vascular Biology Institute) at the University of Miami, where she worked on animal models of diabetic nephropathy and on the role of mesangial stem cells progenitors.
After 4 years of post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Fornoni completed a residency program in Internal Medicine and a Fellowship in Nephrology at the University of Miami and is currently Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Nephrology. Dr. Fornoni has established a dedicated Diabetic Nephropathy clinic at the University of Miami Diabetes Research Institute, that has attracted patients from all over the world.
The research conducted in her laboratory is focused on pancreatic beta cells (responsible for insulin production) and on podocytes (responsible for the integrity of the the renal filtration barrier). Her research stems from the idea that podocytes are insulin sensitive cells and from the evidence that podocytes may become insulin resistant in the very early phases of diabetic nephropathy. She is particularly interested in the identification of biomarkers for diabetic nephropathy that may precede the development of diabetic nephropathy and may reveal new therapeutic targets. Cell culture systems, experimental animals and translational bioassays that utilize patient’s sera are being utilized with the final goal to promote a personalized medicine approach to patients care.
Dr. Fornoni's laboratory was also the first one to report an important role of sphingolipids in the modulation of podocyte function in focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (Science TM, June 2011). She is now investigating how modulation of cellular lipids may affect podocyte function in health and disease. This work is conducted in collaboration with Dr. George Burke III (Director of Pancreas and Kidney Transplant at the University of Miami) and with many interdisciplinary members from the Diabetes Research Institute. In addition, research conducted with the help of the outstanding core facilities available at the DRI and supported through the DRI Foundation, Dr. Fornoni has also reported an important role of insulin signaling as modulator of the function of pancreatic beta cells. She is currently studying in human islets and in experimental animal models how a modulation of molecules involved in insulin signaling may facilitate pancreatic beta cell function.
Dr. Fornoni's group was the first to report that Nephrin, a molecule that was thought to be specific to the kidney podocytes, acts as a key regulator of pancreatic beta cell function (Diabetes, 2012, JBC, 2012).