CPH students develop water tablet to address diarrhea crisis

Three University of Georgia students are developing a tablet that could help global communities access clean water.

John Parker, a master of public health (MPH) student at UGA’s College of Public Health is leading the effort. During the Fall 2019 semester, Parker was researching the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti following the recent deadly earthquake.

As he learned more about the causes, symptoms, and, critically, the spread of the illness, one question came to the forefront of his mind. Water sanitation and oral rehydration are crucial aspects to the prevention of cholera — but why were these processes separate?

“People were using bleach to clean their water, and then using oral rehydration salts and mixing them separately. I thought, ‘I wonder if these exist together,’” said Parker. Soon, he had an idea: a layered tablet design, with a time-delayed oral rehydration solution.

To bring his idea to life, Parker recruited fellow MPH student Lee Brackman, whose focus is environmental health science, and biochemical engineering major Nick Robertson. Together they developed Purlyte LLC, to produce and market the two-in-one package.

The PurLyte tablet features an outer layer of chlorine, which works to disinfect the water, making it safe to drink after 30 minutes. Then, following the World Health Organization’s recommendations for effective oral rehydration, electrolytes are slowly released from the layer below, working to improve the taste and reintroducing important salts and sugars that are often lost in sweat and diarrhea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes one in nine child deaths worldwide to diarrhea-related complications, and the most common cause of these diarrheal ailments is the consumption of unsafe, contaminated water. In 2010, Haiti grappled with the worst outbreak of cholera in recent history – resulting in 8,183 deaths. To prevent a further spread, the CDC says that access to clean, safe water is critical.

Marketing to campers, hikers and world travelers, who often face their own barriers to finding safe-to-drink water, Parker hopes PurLyte’s business model will be able to help maintain that access. Revenue from sales will be used to support donations of PureLyte tablets to communities in need.

“Hopefully, PurLyte LLC will become a global company that provides tablets for sale to campers and hikers where for each tablet sold, the company would donate one to someone in need,” said Robertson.

With this goal in mind, Parker, Brackman and Robertson are working to fine-tune their design and are negotiating with distributors and investors to bring PurLyte tablets to the market. Recently, the team won a $1,000 reward at the UGA Quick Pitch Competition, getting them a step closer to finalizing their prototype. “The future of PurLyte looks bright,” said Brackman.

– Amy Cole

Additional coverage at ASPPH Friday Letter.

Posted on March 17, 2020.