updated 4/3/2012 12:25:01 PM ET 2012-04-03T16:25:01

Tomorrow's tiny drug dispensers or implantable medical devices can only work inside human bodies if they have power. Now a new system can wirelessly transmit power through muscles and bones to keep such devices running.

The patented system uses magnetic coupling to deliver power over a distance of 20 inches. A person could wear the transmitter on their belt so that it wirelessly sends power to the receiver module inside a medical device — whether that device is a video capsule taking pictures of the body's insides or a drug capsule releasing medication at certain times of day.

"With our portable device, we can remotely supply power to implants, medication dosing systems and other medical applications without touching them — such as ingestible endoscopic capsules that migrate through the gastrointestinal tract and transmit images of the body‘s inside to the outside," said Holger Lausch, a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems in Germany.

The wireless power system uses a magnetic rotary field to rotate a magnetic pellet in the receiver module and create 0.1 watts of power. That's far less than what any household devices require, but could still easily power tiny medical devices. Scaled-up versions might even power bigger medical devices such as artificial hearts.

Some wireless power systems already use radio waves or magnetic coupling, but have more limited range and difficulty tracking the power receiver based on its location, position and movement. The new wireless power system can trace its power receiver inside the human body at any time.

"With magnetic coupling, power can be transported through all nonmagnetic materials, such as biological tissue, bones, organs, water, plastic or even a variety of metals," Lausch explained. "Moreover, the magnetic field produced has no harmful side effects on humans. It doesn't even heat up tissue."

The Fraunhofer team plans to display the technology at the Hannover Messe tech tradeshow from April 23 to 27. Its demonstration will deliver electricity to a hip implant's ball-and-socket joint to stimulate the growth of cartilage and bone cells.

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