Scientist wins ‘one to watch’ award for equine therapeutic light mask

UCD equine scientist Barbara Murphy has won the Enterprise Ireland ‘One to Watch’ Award 2012 for her therapeutic light mask for horses.

Dr Murphy’s invention, 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 Jan 1. If a horse was born in August, it is called a yearling just 5 months later but it is too immature for sale.

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.

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. Dr Murphy is working with Enterprise Ireland to build a spin-out company, to be called Equilume Ltd.

& Seán Sherlock, the research and innovation minister, 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.”

Keeping mares indoors under artificial lights has 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 technology will allow breeders to keep their mares outside in their natural environment while the special light in the mask adjusts their reproductive cycle. Breeders would also save around €1,400 a season per animal.

UCD’s technology transfer team at NovaUCD facilitated the identification and protection of the intellectual property arising from Dr Murphy’s research. She was also a participant, and an award winner, on the NovaUCD 2011 Campus Company Development Programme.

As the world’s third largest producer of thoroughbreds, Ireland produces 10,000 foals annually in an industry which is worth €1bn to the Irish economy.

Dr Murphy has already demonstrated her prototype to horse breeders in Kentucky, in the US 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.”

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