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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Diabetes researcher leads free lecture on ‘unheard of’ disease prevalence and new treatments

Dr. Irl Hirsch, University of Washington expert on diabetes  (Creative Design & Production)

If you have any questions about diabetes, University of Washington expert Dr. Irl Hirsch plans to cover a lot of ground in a 6 p.m. Tuesday webinar.

Hirsch is a researcher, diabetes treatment doctor and teaching chair at the UW School of Medicine.

He’s leading the free online lecture on “Diabetes Types 1 and 2: What You Need to Know.” To view it, register at

Offered by the UW-GU Health Partnership, it’s part of a Next Generation Medicine lecture series.

For a panel discussion, the speaker will be joined by Dr. Carol Wysham, a Spokane MultiCare endocrinologist, and Anneka Van Sloten, a Providence diabetes management nurse practitioner.

Hirsch said a major part of his talk will cover new treatments for Type 1 and Type 2.

“They’ve revolutionized diabetes treatment, partly because they’re reasonably good at controlling blood sugar, but the GLP-1s in particular can cause dramatic weight loss,” he said of one new kind of diabetes drug. “We’ve had national shortages of these drugs, because people who do not have diabetes have been using them as obesity treatments.”

While that’s a concern, doctors have another reason to pay attention to the new medications: Both have been shown to improve heart health, he said.

Hirsch plans to cover the increasing rates of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes over the past 40 years. Rising obesity and Type 2 diabetes are health concerns “especially in our minority populations and in youth,” he said. Recent reports show a dramatic increase of Type 2 diabetes in adolescents. “That was unheard of back in the early 1980s,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch expects to cover the differences between Types 1 and 2, which require different treatments.

Type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, so the body produces little or none of the hormone that enables blood sugar to enter the body’s cells for energy.

Type 2 diabetes is an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar, or glucose, as a fuel.

Another trend is a growing number of people with what’s called adult-onset Type 1. Hirsch said doctors are trying to understand why many of these patients still are naturally producing a small amount of insulin in the body.

“The Type 1 diabetes we see in adults – for reasons we don’t quite understand – the autoimmunity that is responsible for the diabetes is not as robust,” he said.

Among children diagnosed with Type 1, usually within six to 12 months, “there is no insulin” in the body, and the patient depends on an insulin injection or pump.

Hirsch said there also is new research on “atypical diabetes,” which has a genetic mutation.

“We’re looking for new genetic mutations because there are so many people who have a type of diabetes we don’t understand,” he said. “We’re learning so much about the genetics of all types of diseases. I think we’ve made it too simplistic the way most people think, that there are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. That’s not true at all.”

More than 34 million people in the U.S. live with some form of diabetes, according to estimates. Roughly 90 million U.S. adults have pre-diabetes and every year, 1.5 million more Americans receive a diagnosis.