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For transgender children who think their bodies are the wrong sex, puberty can be terrifying. To alleviate this psychological trauma, physicians are increasingly giving transgender adolescents drugs to block puberty until their bodies — and decision-making abilities — are mature enough to begin cross-sex hormone treatment, typically at age 16.
But the side effects of such therapy are largely unknown, and researchers and clinicians are still trying to determine how to treat children who question the gender they were assigned at birth. A US study set to begin recruiting participants in May could offer some clarity.
Funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US$5.7-million project will be not only the largest-ever study of transgender youth, but also only the second to track the psychological effects of delaying puberty — and the first to track its medical impacts. It comes as the NIH and others have begun to spend heavily on research related to the health of transgender people, says Robert Garofalo, a paediatrician at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Illinois, and a leader of the study. “We seem to really be at a tipping point,” he adds.
Garofalo and his colleagues aim to recruit 280 adolescents who identify as transgender, and to follow them for at least five years. One group will receive puberty blockers at the beginning of adolescence, and another, older group will receive cross-sex hormones. Their findings could help clinicians to judge how best to help adolescents who are seeking a transition.
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