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Hemp soaring to new heights thanks to Kentucky company


LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hemp will soon be finding new room – one might say space – for studies.

Space Tango, a small Kentucky start-up which develops microgravity research platforms, has announced it will be forming a new, yet-to-be-named subsidiary to focus on the plant biology and properties of hemp. Space Tango will be partnering with Atalo Holdings, which provides certified hemp genetics, and Anavii Market, an online retailer of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) therapeutics, in its endeavor.

Space Tango’s current focus is on drug discovery and pharmaceuticals, which is one reason hemp has drawn its attention. The new enterprise will explore the various aspects of hemp, but particularly those associated with biomedical and health uses with a focus on enhancing its applications, efficacy and value.

“We think hemp is very attractive from a biomedical standpoint,” said Kris Kimel, co-founder and chair of Space Tango. “We’ve seen some hard science coming out and some FDA-approved (Food and Drug Administration) drugs for epilepsy.

“A lot of people are working on cannabinoids for medical purposes, and there is just a lot we don’t know about the crop. From a discovery standpoint, that’s really intriguing. Scientists are looking at a lot of complex problems affecting a lot of people like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s headaches and epilepsy.”

Space Tango’s primary business is building research and manufacturing systems into compact smart containers, called CubeLabs, which can be installed in hubs on the International Space Station (ISS) 250 miles above the Earth. It currently has two micro-laboratories installed on the ISS, with payloads launching to the space station about six times a year.

Kimel said Space Tango is dedicated to working to help turn the tide on a variety of diseases via biomedical solutions using zero gravity. Organizations it has worked with include the Parkinson’s Foundation and Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

“We’ve done some work in cancer, both looking at cancer cells and looking at plant biology as the basis for cancer drugs. We think that in the future we will find that some things are far more efficient, or even required, to be manufactured in zero gravity,” he added.

“When we send plants to the International Space Station, we eliminate one core, constant force, to which plants are well-adapted – gravity,” explained Dr. Joe Chappell, a member of the Space Tango Science Advisory Team, and a specialist in drug development and design who has assisted with previous ISS experiments.

“When plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive.”

More than 30 countries grow hemp, with China being the largest hemp-producing and -exporting country, responsible for an estimated one-fifth of total global production. The United States is currently the No. 1 importer of hemp fiber, most of which it receives from China and Canada.

The lobbying organization Vote Hemp estimated the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2016 was at least $688 million, a 20 percent growth over the 2015 retail value estimate of $573 million. The 2014 U.S. farm bill enabled expanded research and development and planting of industrial hemp for the first time in 70 years.