Alumni Spotlight: Irl B. Hirsch, MD ‘84

Irl B. Hirsch, MD ‘84

Without medical research, the world would be a very different place. It is thanks to research that polio is a nearly eradicated disease, that cancer survivorship rates are the highest they’ve ever been, that life-threatening conditions can be managed with medication.  

Irl B. Hirsch, MD ’84 specializes in diabetes research, examining the use of insulin therapy and technological advances for people who have the disease. He leads several studies, including a 40-year trial looking at diabetes complications that started under his mentor, David Goldstein, MD, the now-retired Division Chief of Pediatrics Diabetes and Endocrinology at MU.

“In my lifetime, I have seen transformational changes in type 1 diabetes,” Hirsch said. “Things that we never thought would be possible, are possible.”

Today, Hirsch is a professor, a researcher and the Diabetes Treatment and Teaching Chair at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He’s authored more than 300 research papers, 60 editorials and four books – and he’s thankful to MU for giving him a start.

“This was the only medical school that accepted me,” Hirsch said. “I was the last person admitted to my class. I will always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to do the only thing I really wanted to do.”

While Hirsch found mentors and role models throughout his medical education, he considers Goldstein the most impactful. Goldstein taught him how to approach research questions and how to talk to patients. So, when an opportunity arose to establish an endowment fund in Goldstein’s honor – officially named the Irl B. Hirsch, MD Diabetes Endowment Fund – Hirsch wanted it to honor him and his work in diabetes research.

“We are making huge changes both in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. None of this would have been possible without the opportunity that the University of Missouri gave me,” Hirsch said. “It is very important to me to give back.”