Talk, tour offer info on unique flock of sheep

Farm Forum

Larry Holler will speak at the S.D. Sheep Growers convention in Brookings Sept. 27-28 about a unique flock of sheep that he and his wife Susan are raising near White. This operation has a unique production goal, which provides growers with a new way to look at sheep production

Over the past 20 years, the Hollers have developed and maintained a flock carrying a genetic trait that may help those living with Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease. The flock has a specific genetic line that produces GM1 ganglioside in quantities 30-40 times the normal level.

The Hollers have worked with researchers to get the GM1 into clinical trials for Huntington’s disease in conjunction with a clinical doctor and researcher from Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Steven Hersch has used the sheep product in studies to treat a mouse model of Huntington’s disease, with very compelling results. Last January in conjunction with Dr. Hersch a project proposal was submitted to The National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancement of Translational Science Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases to help get GM1 from basic science research into clinical trials for Huntington’s disease.

While the proposal made it through multiple rounds of scrutiny, it was turned down in late April. The reason given was that while the science was outstanding, the group indicated they didn’t think enough sheep could be raised.

These scientists from Maryland reviewed the trends in the sheep industry, and after noting the decline in sheep numbers over the years, determined that it would not be possible to raise enough sheep to treat Huntington’s disease patients.

Currently there are about 30,000 Huntington’s disease patients in the U.S. Using current estimates, one lamb could treat one patient for one year. The gene the sheep carry is transmitted by a simple recessive mode of inheritance— (if a carrier ram and a carrier ewe are mated) 25% of their offspring would be affected. These affected lambs are the ones that produce elevated concentrations of GM1.

This project could revitalize the sheep industry by providing a value-added pharmaceutical product to increase profitability. The Holler’s are trying to determine interest among sheep producers and whether enough lambs can be produced for pharmaceutical use. For further information visit:

The conference is held at the Days Inn Convention Center.