For miniaturization and integration of chemical synthesis and analytics on small length scales, the development of complex lab-on-chip (LOC) systems is in the focus of many current research projects. While application specific synthesis and analytic modules and LOC devices are widely described, the combination and integration of different modules is intensively investigated. Problems for in-line processes such as solvent incompatibilities, e.g., for a multistep synthesis or the combination of an organic drug synthesis with a cell-based biological activity testing system, require a solvent exchange between serialized modules. Here, we present a continuously operating microfluidic solvent exchanger based on the principle of free-flow electrophoresis for miscible organic/aqueous fluids. We highlight a proof-of-principle and describe the working principle for the model compound fluorescein, where the organic solvent DMSO is exchanged against an aqueous buffer. The DMSO removal performance could be significantly increased to 95% by optimization of the microfluidic layout. Moreover, the optimization of the inlet flow ratio resulted in a minimized dilution factor of 5, and we were able to demonstrate that a reduction of the supporting instrumentation is possible without a significant decrease of the DMSO removal performance. Finally, the compatibility of the developed solvent exchanger for cell based downstream applications was proven. The impedimetric monitoring of HEK293A cells in a continuously operating microfluidic setup revealed no adverse effects of the residual DMSO after the solvent replacement. Our solvent exchanger device demonstrates the power of micro-free-flow electrophoresis not only as a powerful technique for separation and purification of compound mixtures but also for solvent replacement.
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