House Speaker Beth Harwell led a delegation of Tennessee legislators to campus Monday, Feb. 5, to learn more about Middle Tennessee State University’s Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research and its ongoing studies with nonpsychotropic cannabinoids, which are derived from hemp.
“I’m so proud of your ability to lead the nation with this research,” said Harwell, R-Nashville. “You’re on the cutting edge of offering what other people need. … Something near and dear to me is research.”
MTSU invited the state lawmakers to illustrate the development and research underway and showing the medicinal strides being made. The research would be pertinent if Tennessee expands on a medical cannabis patient program.
Among those joining Harwell to obtain a firsthand look at hemp research were Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, House speaker pro tem; and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, a major supporter of MTSU’s ginseng initiative with the center.
Faison encouraged his fellow legislators and citizens “to move away from taboo and start saving lives” through hemp and medical marijuana research.
Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and state representatives and fellow Republicans Dawn White of Eagleville, Dr. Bryan Terry of Murfreesboro and Mike Sparks of Smyrna also participated in the meeting and building tours.
Dr. Elliot Altman, center director, discussed the overall success of the center and the growing hemp research. He and McPhee led the tour, which included a stop in a room where a hemp plant was “growing with the help of a very sophisticated ultraviolet light,” he said.
College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer talked about the impact the $147 million Science Building has had on research and MTSU’s ability to secure grant funding. He offered the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research as an example of a program that would not be successful without the state-of-the-art facilities like those offered in the university’s facility.
“Innovative research has gone broader. We have partnerships where we’re working with businesses and other institutions. We’ve nearly doubled our funding,” Fischer said, referring to the $10 million obtained in 2012 to the $19.5 million in 2017. “What’s driven this increase is this building.”
Researcher and center co-director Iris Gao discussed Chinese collaborations and the ongoing student-involved research with developing new anticancer compounds.
“We’ve generated a lot of research results,” Gao said, adding that patents and papers for leading scientific journals related to the work underway at the center also have increased substantially.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee welcomed the guests and spoke about the university’s partnership with local businessmen Ted LaRoche and Ed Chiles and their company, Greenway.
“I appreciate your support,” McPhee said to Harwell and others. “We have dedicated faculty, and we’re able to conduct world-class research.”
Along with touring the center’s laboratory, the large contingent visited the Science Building’s greenhouse and vivarium, an enclosed area used for small animal research.
The university’s School of Agribusiness and Agriscience grows hemp at the MTSU farm — also known as the Experiential Learning and Research Center — in Lascassas, Tennessee.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)