Scientists in Switzerland have developed what they say is the smallest medical implant with multiple sensors ever created, a 14-millimeter long chip that can measure molecules in the bloodstream of a live organism and transmit the results wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet app. They claim the device, called the "IronIC system," can detect heart attacks several hours in advance.

"There is a molecule called troponin that is released by the heart muscle just three to four hours before the heart attack, once the heart muscle starts malfunctioning," wrote Sandro Carrara, one of the leaders of a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), in an email to The Verge. "Our system could detect this molecule three/four hours in advance of the fatal event."

"Our system could detect this molecule three/four hours in advance of the fatal event."

The device is powered by a patch that sticks onto a patient's skin like a nicotine patch, but contains a battery instead of drugs. The chip sends information through radio waves to the battery patch, which in turn transmits it via Bluetooth to a mobile app. Carrara and his colleagues have tested a prototype device in mice for detection of five different blood-borne substances. So far, the results have been equal to the reliability of traditional blood tests, which involve drawing blood from a patient and analyzing it with separate lab equipment. The researchers plan to present their results in a paper at the Design, Automate and Test Europe conference tomorrow, March 20, but say it will likely be four years until commercial availability. At that point, they believe mass production will allow them to produce chips for less than a dollar each.