Equilume - UCD

A light in the dark - Equilume, a UCD spin-out success

It is hard to believe that a small blue light could have such a large impact upon the multi-million euro Irish equine industry. Yet Barbara Murphy’s Equilume Light Mask is testament to how a simple idea can make such a market breakthrough.

The spin-out

Supported by NovaUCD, the commercialisation arm of UCD, Equilume was spun-out of UCD in 2013. It now employs four people and plans to increase staff numbers to 10 by the end of 2016. The 'Light Mask' is entirely manufactured in Ireland and the company has had traction achieving sales of approximately €250,000 in Ireland, UK, US and Australia.

The problem

As a lecturer in Equine Science at UCD with extensive industry knowledge, Dr. Murphy knew how important clock rhythms are to thoroughbred breeders whose success is often governed by how close their foals give birth to the universal birthday of January 1 shared by all thoroughbred foals.

The January 1 birthday causes problems because if a foal was born on August 1, it is called a yearling just eight months later, but it is too immature for sale. It also means that as the horse grows up, it will be expected to race against horses more physically mature than it.

In order to fool a mare's reproductive system into activating earlier than in nature, many breeders currently maintain their non-pregnant mares indoors, under artificial lighting for eight to 10 weeks prior to the official start of the breeding season in February. This is very costly for breeders and is questionable in terms of the animal’s health.

The solution

Through a collaboration with fellow academic Professor John Sheridan, an optoelectronics researcher in UCD's School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering, Dr. Murphy developed a light mask which offers breeders the opportunity to keep their mares at grass, while still administering the necessary light to fool the mare's reproductive system.

The mask provides timed, low-level light to a single eye, limiting production of the hormone melatonin that is usually produced in darkness and inhibits a mare's reproductive activity during winter months.

“Discovering through research that this low light in only a single eye could inhibit melatonin was my Eureka moment.” Dr. Barbara Murphy, CEO Equilume.

The impact

The light mask has just reached market. In Ireland alone, a country which is the world’s third largest producer of thoroughbreds, at around 10,000 foals every year, in an industry which is worth €1billion to the economy, the impact could be substantial. Not only on healthier and happier animals but, where costs to breeders are around €1,400 a season per animal, on the costs associated with indoor maintenance of horses – labour, bedding and artificial light.

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.” Dermot Cantillon, one of Ireland’s leading commercial thoroughbred breeders and owner/manager of three stud farms in Ireland and the USA, who trialled Equilume’s light mask in 2012.

Publish date: 2014

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