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Doctor Asked For Grant To Study Trans Hormones On Rats, Admits ‘Severe Lack’ Of Research, Emails Show

  • Dr. Walid Farhat, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, requested a grant to study the effects of cross-sex hormone therapy on rats, acknowledging there is a “lack” of information regarding the long-term side effects of the treatment with minors, according to emails obtained in a public records request.
  • The application noted that some of the concerns included effects on fertility but suggested “sperm or egg freezing” for children before they begin puberty blockers or cross-sex hormone treatment had been presented as viable options. 
  • “This lack of information is being used by some to delay or deny [gender-affirming hormone treatment] for [transgender, nonbinary and/or gender-diverse] youth, which results in further stress and harm to an already marginalized group,” the application reads. 

Dr. Walid Farhat, a professor of Urology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, applied in April for a grant to study the impact of cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers on prepubescent rats, acknowledging the research on the potential side effects is “severely lacking,” according to emails obtained through a Daily Caller News Foundation Freedom of Information Act request.

Farhat, who is also chief of the division of Pediatric Urology at the UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health, applied to the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) for a research grant to study the potential side effects of cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers on “prepubertal male and female” rats into adulthood, according to an April email. The application claimed that the study would help close the gap in research on minors receiving transgender hormone therapy, which Farhat maintained was “relatively safe,” and criticized the attempts to withhold access to the medication.

“The politicization of conversations about TNG identities … has impaired open and honest discussion about the best ways to support transgender children and adolescents,” the application reads. “While there are increasing studies of the impact of GAHT on TNG [transgender, nonbinary and/or gender-diverse] individuals, best practices for endocrinological health care for TNG youth remain limited… This lack of information is being used by some to delay or deny GAHT for TNG youth, which results in further stress and harm to an already marginalized group.”

Some medical professionals have warned, however, that surveys showing high rates of suicidality and depression among transgender individuals often rely on self-reporting and are usually biased since the respondents are very passionate about the issue. One doctor said that pushing gender transitions on children, such as prescribing puberty blockers, only encourages them to “hate themselves.”

Farhat’s team of researchers includes Dr. Anthony Auger, a professor of psychology at UW and a specialist in studying behavioral neuroendocrinology with human and rat models, and Dr. Joan Jorgenson, a professor of Comparative Biosciences, who specializes in sex-specific differentiation and fertility, according to the application. If successful the researchers expressed hopes to conduct a long-term five-year study with the National Institutes of Health “spanning each life stage into old age.”

In an email sent to Farha on April 11, WPP asked the researchers to submit a full application and encouraged them to attend an information meeting on April 25. WPP did not answer the DCNF’s request regarding whether or not the grant was approved.

The application noted that some of the concerns included long-term side effects for bone health and fertility but argued that research showed transgender youth on “puberty suppression” and GAHT were at a lower risk of depression and suicide and “improved overall well-being in TNG youth.” The researchers claimed that bone density concerns can be alleviated with vitamin supplements and though long-term use of puberty blockers likely would result in infertility, “sperm or egg freezing” could be considered before starting the treatments.

Seattle Children’s Hospital, similarly, has found that “gender-affirming” therapy would sterilize children and recommended that transgender minor patients undergo “fertility preservation” if they decide to pursue sex-change procedures.

Farhat also sent a copy of the application to Dr. Jennifer Rehm, a UW associate professor and a faculty member of Pediatric Diabetes and Endocrinology at UW’s American Family Children’s Hospital, asking her to send a letter in support of his grant request. The template letter included in Farhat’s email also criticized attempts to restrict access to transgender medical procedures, while again noting the lack of research on the actual side effects.

Both Farhat and Rehm helped launch the Gender and Sex Development Program at the American Family Children’s Hospital, which is part of the university’s medical system, in December 2020, according to an announcement from UW’s Department of Urology. The program brought together UW’s Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Health (PATH) clinic and the Variations of Sex Characteristics (VarSeC) clinics to “support transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse youth.”

An assistant for Farhat said that he was out of country and could not provide a comment after multiple requests from the DCNF.

UW’s PATH clinic offers both “gender-affirming hormone therapy” and “hormone/puberty suppression” for minors as long as they provide “mental health documentation of readiness for hormone therapy,” according to the website. The clinic says it does not perform sex-change surgeries for patients under the age of 18.

Rehm, Auger and Jorgenson did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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