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Posted: 23 July 2012

UCD inventor wins Enterprise Ireland’s ‘One to Watch’ Award

Dr Barbara Murphy, Head of Equine Science at University College Dublin (UCD), has won the Enterprise Ireland ‘One to Watch’ Award 2012.

Seán Sherlock TD, Minister for Research & Innovation, presented the award to Dr Murphy at UCD’s Lyons Research Farm in Dublin in recognition of her work to develop her invention - a therapeutic light mask for horses – into a marketable product.

Pictured far right: Minister of State for Research & Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD presenting the Enterprise Ireland 'One to Watch' 2012 Award to University College Dublin's Dr Barbara Murphy. (Photo: Gary O' Neill)

The Equilume light mask for horses is used to advance the breeding season in Thoroughbred mares so that their foals are born close to their universal birthday of January 1st. Other uses include reducing extended gestation lengths in mares due to foal early in the year,  treating ‘horse jet-lag’ and enabling competition horses to shed their winter coats earlier in time for the start of the show circuit.

Dr Murphy, UCD School of Agriculture & Food Science, is currently working with Enterprise Ireland and UCD’s technology transfer team to build a UCD spin-out company around the technology which will be called Equilume Ltd.

“Barbara’s story is an inspiring example of how great ideas can be converted into valuable products with the potential to revolutionise an entire industry,” said Minister Sherlock who presented the award on 17 July 2012.

“As outlined in the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, the commercialisation of State funded research is a key priority for the Government. We will continue to place science, technology and innovation at the heart of enterprise and jobs policies so that we are favourably positioned to capitalise on the opportunities created by people like Barbara.”

The Equilume light mask, developed by Dr Murphy in collaboration with Professor John Sheridan, UCD School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering, provides timed, low-level light to a single eye. It limits levels of the hormone melatonin which is usually produced in darkness and inhibits a mare’s reproductive activity during winter months.

Keeping mares indoors under artificial lights has long been used to encourage mares to breed earlier. Keeping the lights on until 11pm during winter fools a mare’s reproductive system into thinking it is spring and advances the mare’s reproductively active cycle.

This new technology will allow breeders to keep their mares outside in their natural environment while the special light in the mask adjusts their reproductive cycle. In addition to the horses being in a healthier environment, the breeders will save around €1,400 a season per animal on the costs associated with indoor maintenance of horses – labour, bedding and artificial light.

Professor Peter Clinch, UCD Vice-President for Innovation said: “I would like to congratulate Dr Barbara Murphy, a finalist on the NovaUCD 2011 Campus Company Development Programme, on winning the prestigious Enterprise Ireland 2012 One-to-Watch Award. Dr Murphy’s new venture, Equilume, is an excellent example of a spin-out company being established to translate an innovative idea arising from a UCD research programme into a commercial entity, to provide a solution to a problem in the equine market place, and which has the potential to provide skilled job opportunities."

The reason Thoroughbred horse breeders want to adjust the reproductive cycle of mares is that the industry applies a universal birthday of January 1st to all foals. This means that if a horse was born in August, it is called a yearling just 5 months later but it is too immature for sale.

Dermot Cantillon, one of Ireland’s leading commercial Thoroughbred breeders, and owner/manager of three stud farms in Ireland and the USA, trialled Equilume’s light mask this year and said: “the Equilume light mask has enormous potential for many breeds and categories of horses. I have been excited since being introduced to the concept and having used the masks during this year’s breeding season, I am very confident that they will be a major world-wide commercial success.”

Dr Keith O’Neill, Director of Lifesciences & Food research commercialisation at Enterprise Ireland said: “Enterprise Ireland is delighted to work with Dr Murphy to  bring her invention to the market. She has used the funding provided by Enterprise Ireland to demonstrate that her invention works, and to cultivate contacts in the industry who can help her trial the technology.Enterprise Ireland is  continuing to work with  Dr. Murphy to build a spin-out company to access an initial total addressable market estimated to be in excess of €60 million”.

UCD’s technology transfer team at NovaUCD facilitated the identification and protection of the intellectual property arising from  Dr Murphy’s research. Dr Murphy was also a participant, and an award winner, on the NovaUCD 2011 Campus Company Development Programme. This Programme assists UCD academic and research entrepreneurs in bringing their innovative ideas from intellectual concepts to fully developed and sound commercial businesses.

The production of Thoroughbred foals is big business in Ireland – as the world’s 3rd largest producer of Thoroughbreds, we currently produce around 10,000 foals every year in an industry which is worth €1 billion to our economy.

Dr Murphy has already demonstrated her prototype to horse breeders in Kentucky USA and Japan who are very interested in her product. She plans to incorporate Equilume Ltd in 2013 and to manufacture the light mask in Ireland.


About the Equilume light mask

The Equilume light mask offers solutions to a number of problems facing the thoroughbred horse breeding industry including:

  1. Advancing the breeding season – the Equilume light mask adjusts the reproductive cycle of breeding mares so that their foals are born close to their universal birthday of January 1st
  2. Long gestation – this technology shortens gestation length by around 10 days
  3. Low foal birth weight (occurs in foals born early in the year of mares that do not receive light stimulus) – this technology  increases foal birth weight by around 10lbs
  4. Treats ‘horse jet lag’ in race horses and show-jumping horses

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Pictured far right: Minister of State for Research & Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD presenting the Enterprise Ireland 'One to Watch' 2012 Award to University College Dublin's Dr Barbara Murphy. (Photo: Gary O' Neill)