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Merck Collaborates with TU Darmstadt and Tufts University on Bioreactor Designs to Enable Cultured Meat Production
Partners signed a three-year collaboration agreement to conduct fundamental research on next-generation, scalable bioreactor designs to support industrial-scale meat and seafood manufacture
While the cultured meat industry is gaining momentum, scaling up the production process and reducing the cost remain key challenges. The primary focus of the collaboration between Merck and the two universities will be the development of next generation, scalable bioreactor designs that can support meat and seafood manufacture on a commercial scale.
“As a leading supplier to the biopharmaceutical industry, we aim to accelerate the emerging cell-based meat industry and become a technology enabler, from R&D to the safe and efficient scale-up of production. The conceptual approaches developed by Tufts University and TU Darmstadt are highly innovative. Both fit our strategy perfectly and complement our internal efforts in the areas of scaffolds, cell differentiation, bioreactors and bioprocess design,” said Thomas Herget, Head of the Silicon Valley Innovation Hub of Merck.
Led by Professor David Kaplan, a team at Tufts University will apply textile bioengineering for the production of whole muscle meat. The aim of the project is to develop a system of techniques that will enable the large-scale construction of tissue engineered muscle and fat that will be safe for human consumption. The team plans to design and construct a bioreactor capable of producing the optimized cultured meat tissue fibers in a scalable manner.
“Led by the department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University has expanded its influence in the realm of cellular agriculture in recent years. From growing sustainable meat using caterpillar stem cells to enhancing the color and texture of cultured meat, our lab group continues to develop novel technologies for the cellular agriculture industry,” said Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts University. “I am excited that our team will now cooperate with Merck to enable the production of structured meat products, building on our vast expertise in biomaterials, cells, and device designs.”
At the same time, Professor Andreas Blaeser’s team from the BioMedical Printing Lab at the Institute for Printing Science and Technology (IDD) and the Center for Synthetic Biology at TU Darmstadt will develop a screen printing process for large-scale production of multi-layered bioink sheets that can be matured into thick, structured meat slices. In contrast to conventional 3D-bioprinting approaches, screen printing enables sheet-to-sheet biofabrication at unmatched production speeds and with ultra-high printing precision.
“In this interdisciplinary project we will first develop a lab-scale printing process and tailor our existing bioink portfolio towards the requirements of meat production. In the next step, we will transfer the concept to an industrial and fully automated printing machine,” Blaeser said. “Our vision is to offer the established technical solution as an open innovation platform for future research on clean meat production. We believe that this approach will not only unite brilliant minds but will also enable leaps in innovation and further accelerate development in this field of research as well as in the related industry.”
Both research groups at Tufts University and TU Darmstadt were the winners of the 2020 Research Grant ‘Bioreactor Designs for Cultured Meat’. Merck started awarding research grants for the first time in 2018. its 350th anniversary year. The submission deadline for this year’s 2021 Research Grants is August 31, 2021.
The focus of the interdisciplinary cultured meat team at Merck is on developing products and services that will enable a safe and scaled production of cultured meat. The joint projects with Tufts University and TU Darmstadt complement the research activities of the cultured meat team, which are led by the Silicon Valley Innovation Hub and the Merck Innovation Center, in close collaboration with the Life Science business sector of Merck. To complement existing research and development in the three business sectors of Merck, the Merck Innovation Center team aims to create new business for Merck outside of the current R&D scope.