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New Device Helping Diabetics Track Blood Sugar Without Fingersticks

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- New mom Samantha Loshelder has Type 1 diabetes. Her pancreas has stopped making insulin, a hormone needed for processing sugar.

She has to check her blood sugar throughout the day to make sure it's not too high, and not too low. Typically, this is done with fingersticks. She would check 15 times a day.

"It's no fun, of course," she says, "and my fingers are calloused because of it."

But, now, all she has to do is look at her phone.

"If I turn my phone to the side, I can get a graph of my blood sugars," she demonstrates.

Her readings are transmitted wirelessly every five minutes from a sensor she wears on her skin.

"It tends to be within 10-20 points of my actual blood sugar, which to me is fabulous," she says.

These skin sensors measure glucose, or sugar levels in the fluid between the cells. This gives you the same reading as checking a glucose level in the bloodstream.

These devices have been available over the last five years, and they're getting smaller and smaller.

While it sits on the skin, it has a small filament that goes into the skin with an automatic inserter.

"My husband's been the one who's most of the time been inserting it for me," explains Samantha.

An alarm sounds when the sugar is too high, and you can give yourself more insulin.

And the alarm sounds when it's too low. When it happens in the middle of the night or while driving, it can be a big problem.

"They recently changed it where you cannot turn off that urgent low alarm, because, of course, if you are in a situation like that, they want to make sure you're hearing the alarms. And I'm sure it's a liability thing," says Samantha.

"Well, your brain has to have glucose. And if the brain doesn't have glucose, it can't function," says Dr. Wayne Evron, an endocrinologist at St. Clair Hospital.

Commercial insurers have been covering it, but Medicare has not. The device itself is about $1,000. But you also need the actual sensors.

"[It's] $300 for a three month supply," says Samantha. "We did have to pay a little bit out of pocket, and we pay monthly to get the sensors. But I think the insurance covers 80 percent of it."

And while the sensor is well suited for certain diabetics, more people could benefit.

"I think it's available for almost any patient, right now for Type 1 diabetes, but Type 2 is also. There's no reason you can't do it," says Dr. Evron.

Could the skin sensor mean the end of fingersticks? Largely, yes. Though currently, the FDA has approved use of the device, but with two fingersticks a day for calibration.

"You do have to check, I would say, at least two to four times a day," says Samantha, "It is a super reliable device, as long as you're willing to calibrate it when it wants you to."

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And you may still have other inconveniences in every day experiences.

"If I'm going through metal detectors, or going to concerts, things like that where it's constantly going off, then you have to explain your situation or request a special pat down. None of that was ever enticing to me," says Samantha.

"I always teach them now fingersticks," says Dr. Evron, "because you never know when it's a machine that's not going to work."

Samantha's favorite part -- at a glance she can see which way her blood sugar is trending.

"It is a really fabulous tool, and I'm very, very thankful it's available to me today," she said.

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