Yes we scan: MRI can reveal whether you are transgender
Brain activity and structure of gender dysphoria patients resemble that of their desired gender, study shows
People questioning their gender identity could be offered brain scans to determine whether they are transgender, according to a new study.
Breakthrough research has revealed evidence for the first time that the brain activity of people who feel they inhabit the wrong body closely resembles that of the gender they want to embrace.
Analysis of about 160 participants showed that biological males with gender dysphoria (the experience of discomfort or distress owing to their biological sex) had a brain structure and neurological patterns similar to biological females, and vice versa.
The analysis revealed that the distinct neurological differences are detectable during childhood.The findings, presented at the European Society of Endocrinology's annual meeting in Barcelona, are likely to provoke controversy among groups who argue that gender identity should be matter of personal choice and not medical definition.However, the scientists behind the new research say their discovery promises doctors a potent new tool with which to offer better advice at an earlier stage.
Currently, children complaining of gender dysphoria typically undergo psychotherapy. They can also be given hormones that delay puberty so that decisions on further transgender therapy can be made at an older age.
Gender dysphoria affects an estimated 1% of the population, according to the the Gender Identity Development Service, although rates of diagnosis are increasing because of growing public awareness of the issue.
Professor Julie Bakker, who led the research at the University of Liege in Belgium, said: “Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender.
“We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously.”
The team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests to examine brain activation upon exposure to a steroid, as well as measuring gray matter and white matter microstructure using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging.The study included biological males and females with gender dysphoria, and male and females without gender dysphoria as controls, with ages ranging across childhood and adolescence.
Scientists believe gender dysphoria may be caused by the exposure of foetuses to additional hormones as a result of medication taken by the mother, as well as a foetal insensitivity to certain hormones while in the womb.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged last year to amend the Gender Recognition Act to allow people to legally change gender without medical authorisation.She said: “Being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as such.”
– © The Daily Telegraph