HOPKINS, Mich. (WOOD) – Research coming out of an Allegan County farm could bring hope to the 30,000 people who suffer from Huntington’s disease and the 200,000 people at risk of getting it.

Mike Ludlam’s sister, Dori was part of that statistic. He lost her to Huntington’s disease four years ago.

“You basically just watch somebody deteriorate in front of your eyes. [They] go from such a strong person… [to] being helpless,” said Ludlam, who owns Windswept Farms near Hopkins.

Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that damages brain cells and patients’ mental and physical abilities, eventually taking their life.

But an article Ludlam recently came across could be a game-changer.

The report described a genetic disorder in some sheep which cause the animals to overproduce the GM1 ganglioside, which is a substance that helps protect brain cells.

It’s also a substance lacking in people with Huntington’s disease.

Suddenly, the Ludlams’ decision years ago to raise sheep took on new meaning.

“We have sheep. We’re sheep farmers. This is a no-brainer,” said Heather Ludlam, who is also a veterinarian.

The couple helped jumpstart research involving breeding sheep with the genetic disorder that produces the additional GM1 and extracting the substance for use in treating Huntington’s.

GM 1 isn’t a cure, but it could bring an effective treatment for the disease. The early results are promising and piqued the interest of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, who toured the Ludlam’s farm Friday.

“Do they have a time line of when they finish that first study?” Upton asked Heather Ludlam.

“They’re hoping, I’d say, between two and three years. It could come down to funding,” she answered.

Upton is the primary sponsor of the 21st Century Cures Act. The act would provide additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, as well as streamline the process of getting treatments to patients quicker.

The St. Joseph Republican co-sponsored the bipartisan bill with Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. Upton said Friday the bill has passed the House and is close to clearing the Senate.

“If we can get that done maybe in the next couple of weeks, we can get a bill to the President before the Fourth of July,” Upton said.

For Mike Ludlam, Upton’s visit was one more step in the process.

“We’ve kind of figured with this project, we don’t have anything to lose,” Mike Ludlam dded. “We’re just going to keep knocking on doors and trying to get the story out… to get it in front of that one person.”

More Information:21st Century Cures Act – http://upton.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=378238Huntington’s Disease Society of America – http://hdsa.org/Lundlam sheep research fundraising site – https://www.crowdrise.com/mikeludlamandfamily