People questioning their gender identity could be offered brain scans to determine whether they are transgender, according to a study.
Research has revealed for the first time evidence 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 around 160 participants showed that biological males with gender dysphoria — the experience of discomfort or distress due to their biological sex — had a brain structure and neurological patterns similar to biological females, and vice versa.
These distinct neurological differences are detectable during childhood.
The findings, presented at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona, are likely to provoke controversy among groups who argue gender identity should be a 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.
Prof Julie Bakker, who led the research at the University of Liege in Belgium, said: “We will 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 MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests to examine brain activation upon exposure to a steroid, and measured grey matter and white matter microstructure using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, last year pledged 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”.