There's no way to sugarcoat a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease. When a patient has it, they know they're dying from it.
The nerve disease can't be cured, and it causes mental illness and a host of physical symptoms as it progresses.
Yet there's a potentially promising front in the war on Huntington's: sheep.
Dr. Heather Ludlam, a veterinarian and sheep farmer from Hopkins, Michigan and Gary Dunbar, a professor of neuroscience and experimental psychology at Central Michigan University, joined Stateside today to explain.
There's a molecule that could treat, and possibly even reverse, the effect of Huntington's. It's called GM1 ganglioside.
Dunbar says too much or too little of this molecule can be harmful. Huntington's patients suffer from too little of it.
Ludlam says a veterinarian from South Dakota State University named Dr. Larry Holler has developed sheep that could be key in providing Huntington's patients with that molecule.
Dr. Heather Ludlam on what sheep with GM1 gangliosidosis could do in the quest for GM1 Ganglioside
"Normally, we all have GM1 ganglioside, you know, in our nervous tissues and some of our other tissues. But there's an enzyme that breaks it down, helps it recycle so we don't get too much build up."
"These sheep that Dr. Holler figured out their genetics and has them breeding for over 20 years, they lack that enzyme – they don't break down the GM1, so they produce 40 times the normal amount of GM1 in their brains, spinal chord, and some of their other organs and tissues – 40 times more than we could get from say, one cow brain or, you know, some other animal brain."
"Some Huntington's researchers did some pretty compelling research in mice with GM1 ganglioside in 2012 and found that it could, you know, basically reverse the symptoms of Huntington's disease in mice using the GM1, so that's kind of how the sheep started tying in. That's when Dr. Holler realized that, you know, these sheep could help Huntington's patients."
Listen to the full conversation with Stateside's Cynthia Canty above.