Light therapy for horses wins Enterprise Ireland’s ‘One to Watch’ Award

Minister Sherlock congratulates inventor of ‘Equilume light mask’

Minister Sherlock and Dr. Keith O'Neill, Enterprise Ireland presenting the Enterprise Ireland 'One to Watch 'Award to Dr. Barbara Murphy, UCD, inventor of the Equilume light mask for Thoroughbred horses in Dublin today (17th July 2012). Dr. Murphy is being supported by Enterprise Ireland to bring her invention to the market through a new company which will be called Equilume Ltd
Minister Sherlock and Dr. Keith O'Neill, Enterprise Ireland presenting the Enterprise Ireland 'One to Watch 'Award to Dr. Barbara Murphy, UCD, inventor of the Equilume light mask for Thoroughbred horses in Dublin today (17th July 2012). Dr. Murphy is being supported by Enterprise Ireland to bring her invention to the market through a new company which will be called Equilume Ltd.

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

Seán Sherlock T.D, Minister for Research & Innovation, presented the award to Dr. Murphy at UCD’s Lyons Research Farm in Dublin today (17th July 2012) in recognition of her work to develop her invention -  therapeutic light mask for horses – into a marketable product

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 is currently working with Enterprise Ireland to build a  spin-out company around the technology which will be called Equilume Ltd.

Minister Sherlock presented the award at the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s publication titled “Inventions & Innovations” which contains details of the 117 such spin-out companies that have been built on research funded by the Government - through its agencies Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and others - in Higher Education Institutions since 2007. 

Congratulating Dr. Murphy, Minister Sherlock said, “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. 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 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.

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. Murphyto  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.

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."

Ends:

For more information contact :

Grace Labanyi
Enterprise Ireland
Communications Officer

Grace Labanyi
+353 1 7272746 
+353 87 3286404

Notes to the editor:

EnterpriseIreland’s role in generating employment and exports from research

Enterprise Ireland has a specialist division which focuses on the commercialisation of research in Higher Education Institutions for the benefit of Industry in Ireland.

More 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


More about Enterprise Ireland’s publication ‘Inventions & Innovations – the positive impact of ideas from research in Irish industry and society’

Enterprise Ireland’s publication ‘Inventions & Innovations’ highlights the positive impact of the State’s investment in research in producing new companies, creating high quality employment, and developing solutions to the problems we encounter in our everyday lives.

The publication details the progress made under the first technology transfer strengthening initiative (TTSI) which was funded by Enterprise Ireland. The TTSI resourced ten Technology Transfer Offices located in Higher Education Institutions to leverage State funded research to produce commercially viable technologies and create spin-out companies.

Since the TTSI was established in 2007, 117 spin-out companies have been established and close to 450 technologies were licensed to companies and entrepreneurs.  These spin-outs and technologies have been built on publicly-funded research supported by Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and other State funding agencies.

Click here to download ‘Inventions & Innovations – the positive impact of ideas from research in Irish industry and society’ (pdf format).


More about the equine industry and opportunities for Equilume Ltd.

The global multi-billion Euro Thoroughbred breeding industry consists of 290,000 breeding stock (mares, stallions and foals) and functions within the confines of an imposed breeding and racing calendar. The universal birthday for the Thoroughbred horse is Jan 1st, and contrasts with the natural foaling season of the horse - June to October. To produce foals born as soon after Jan 1st as possible, ensuring mature yearlings for sales and precocious 2 year olds for racing, Thoroughbred breeders maintain their non-pregnant mares indoors under lengthened hours of barn lighting for 12+ weeks from Dec 1st in order to advance the mare’s reproductively active period in time for the start of the breeding season on Feb 15th. This maintenance costs on average ~€1,400 per animal for a 10 week period

Dr. Murphy has identified a gap in the market in the development of a light mask which will enhance equine breeding. The light mask represents a safe cost-effective method of administering timed low-level light to a single eye so that mares can be maintained outdoors in their natural environment, avoiding the costs of indoor maintenance, while effectively advancing the onset of the breeding season to meet industry timelines. Successful completion of the project will create the opportunity for a spin-out company to access an initial total addressable market, estimated by the promoters based on Thoroughbred industry insight, to be in excess of €60million, with further potential to expand the technology and service offerings to all horse breeding industries. There is significant scope in this niche market to grow an Irish start-up company with a global reach. Enterprise Ireland has assembled a Global Equine Team in recent years recognising the importance of this sector to the Irish economy.