Economical scaffolding technology developed for large-scale cultured meat


According to entrepreneur Märt-Erik Martens, the “main challenge” for cultured meat companies is the lack of “good scaffolding solutions” in the market.

Estonian start-up Gelatex, which Martens co-founded and runs as CEO, is working to change that. Founded in 2016, Gelatex has pivoted into the meat-grown space last year with scaffolding technology that it says is both scalable and cost effective.

Avoid cellular “mush” with scaffolding

In the production of cell-grown meat, scaffolding helps create structure and texture by facilitating the development of muscle, fat, and connective tissue. Essentially, the cells have to be transferred to a scaffold to produce structure and thick meat products.

“With all cultured meat products, it is important to provide a suitable environment for cells to proliferate and differentiate” Martens explained. “Scaffolds mimic the structure of an extracellular matrix (ECM), which is very important for tissue growth outside of a host.”

Without scaffolding, cell-based businesses would “end up with porridge,” which Martens described as “an unstructured mass of cells that has nothing to do with meat.”

“The goal of all cultured meat companies is to eventually have a structured meat product that cannot be distinguished from meat of animal origin. Scaffolding allows that.

Popular scaffolds in the market are made from electrospun and hydrogel solutions, which Gelatex has suggested are prohibitively expensive: “If current popular manufacturing solutions persist, lab-grown meat will only be affordable for the wealthiest businesses and individuals. ”

Check all the boxes

The start-up claims its scaffolding is 90% cheaper than the electrospun and hydrogel alternatives on the market.

“We work with polymers of plant origin … Our technology allows the conversion of different polymers into nanofibers” Martens explained.

“For cultured meat, the main criteria are that the raw materials must be edible, plant-based and profitable.”

Gelatex suggests that its solution ticks all of these boxes and is cell-compatible with beef, pork, and chicken, as well as fish and shellfish.

The co-founders of Gelatex Märt-Erik Martens and Mari-Ann Meigo-Fonseca. Photo credit: Siiri Kumari

The scaffolding technology has to be edible because it ends up “partly” in the final cultivated meat product, Martens explained. “During the maturation phase, when the tissue is formed, the cells partially degrade our scaffold and at the same time secrete their earned ECM. This is the reason why the scaffolding must also be edible.

Regarding scale, Gelatex suggested this was a fundamental consideration from the start. “Our core technology is based on manufacturing these materials on a large scale. We have fully operational and operational semi-industrial machines that can produce five times more of the same material per unit time than the largest electrospinning unit (which costs 8 million euros) commercially available ”, Martens told FoodNavigator.

“We are currently building an industrial unit that would even offer three times the throughput of our existing machine.

“From there, it is a question of multiplying the industrial machines to deliver the necessary quantities.

Seed investment of € 1.2 million

By leveraging Gelatex’s scaffolding, the company claims that “affordable and scalable” manufactured cell culture meat may “become a reality soon.”

The company recently announced € 1.2 million in seed funding, which it hopes “will reverse these [price] stigmata ‘in the future. The cycle was led by Change Ventures and Crosslight Partners.

Emphasizing that the roundtable is a “first milestone” for the start-up, Martens said there are already several reasons to be proud of Gelatex’s accomplishments.

“We are running several pilot projects with eight of the world’s ten largest producers of cultured meat. We’ve done enough testing to know that our cheaper nanofibrous materials can make a real difference in the texture of cell culture meat. “

Currently, a kilogram of scaffolding equipment costs around € 100,000, the CEO said. But today, Gelatex is already able to “easily” produce nanifibrous scaffolds at a price of less than € 1,000 per kilogram.

“If we stay true to our ambitions and continue to develop our technology, it will only cost € 40 in less than five years. € 20 in less than 10 years. It is less than 1 € of scaffolding per kg of meat.

“These high-performance materials have never been more accessible than they are today, thanks to our technology.


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