Skip to main content Skip to navigation

An interview with with Professor Jianfeng Feng 


In February, scientists from The University of Warwick and Fudan University, Shanghai made a significant breakthrough around Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have found that protein biomarkers within our blood can predict dementia up to 15 years before diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to previous reports, approximately 1 in every 8-10 people aged 65 and over have Alzheimer’s, and it becomes even more prevalent with age – 1 in every 3 people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

We caught up with lead author, Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the Department of Computer Science at The University of Warwick to learn more.

Professor Jian-Feng Feng

How would you describe your research in a sentence?

JF: Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder with a covert onset, and it’s the most common form of dementia. Our research has found that blood biomarkers can forecast the risk of dementia 15 years before diagnosis in healthy adults.

Why is early diagnosis of dementia so important?

JF: Pathological changes of Alzheimer’s are evident at least 10-20 years before clinical symptoms manifest.

By the time patients show symptoms and seek medical attention, the disease has often advanced to the middle or late stages, missing the optimal window for intervention and treatment.

Previous treatments for Alzheimer’s have only provided temporary symptomatic relief without altering the disease's progression.

There are high risks and costs associated with the creation of new drugs, so the task of improving diagnosis has become even more urgent.

What impact do you think the breakthrough research will have?

JF: Our findings strongly highlight the protein called Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) as an optimal biomarker for dementia prediction, even over 10 years before the diagnosis.

These biomarkers provide a new theoretical basis for blood testing to take place in clinical practice. There is a possibility of screening people at high risk of dementia for early intervention.

Could the research lead to the development of future drugs for dementia?

JF: The research provides significant potential for understanding the underlying causes of the disease and developing treatments for it.

This research sheds light on the complex biological processes involved, potentially leading to targeted interventions and preventative strategies.

By facilitating early detection and intervention, Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and other biomarkers may offer valuable insights into disease progression and pave the way for personalised treatment approaches.

Ongoing studies in this area are vital for advancing our understanding of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and improving patient outcomes.

Why has collaboration been important in your project?

JF: Collaboration has been crucial in our project. It brings together the expertise of clinical practitioners and specialists in big data machine learning algorithms.

The fusion of clinical insights with advanced computational techniques allows us to navigate the complexities of Alzheimer's disease more effectively.

Clinicians provide invaluable perspectives on disease onset, progression, and symptomatology, while data scientists contribute their skills in analysing vast datasets and developing predictive models.

This interdisciplinary approach enables us to uncover meaningful patterns, identify biomarkers, and improve predictive accuracy for early intervention.

By combining the strengths of The University of Warwick and Fudan University specialists, we can address the multifaceted challenges of Alzheimer's disease and work towards more impactful solutions.

What is next for this project?

JF: Moving forward, our research team will focus on conducting data collection and cross-validation among populations at risk of dementia in UK and China.

They will tailor the dementia risk prediction model to fit the characteristics of the British and Chinese population by adjusting relevant data.

Some medical institutions have contacted us to explore the possibility of incorporating blood tests into their health-check programs.

If all goes well, blood testing is expected to be applied in real clinical settings within the next months or years to screen high-risk dementia populations.

The early detection of disease opens the door to early intervention, offering the potential to slow down or even halt the progression of the disease.

Read more about the research.


Igniting real-world change through our research

Want to hear more about research at Warwick? Sign up to receive Illuminate, featuring the latest news on research at The University of Warwick, including exciting opportunities, events and insights into how our research is making an impact.