Late professor’s research must continue

I am belatedly expressing my heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends and associates of the late Dr. Fleur Strand, author, philanthropist and research professor of biology and neural science at NYU, whom I had known as a doctoral teaching fellow in her physiology course. What is inspirational is her pioneering physiological research on laboratory rats of the neuropeptide concept that ACTH, the hormone that regulates the adrenal glands, has a physiological effect on nerves and muscles, and that the offspring of women who smoke or are exposed to high levels of stress during pregnancy have a higher risk of psychosexual problems — such as reduced libido — later in life.

Dr. Strand’s basic experimental protocol is applicable to prospective research projects on animal models of human gender identity disorders. This is when gender identity differs from the genetic, endocrinologic and anatomic sex (Benjamin, “The Transsexual Phenomenon,” 1966). Neurobiological studies on humans support the concept that gender identity develops as a consequence of a neuroendocrinological interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones. In terms of histological evidence, it has been demonstrated that both male and female transsexuals exhibit a form of brain hermaphroditism. This means that the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis of the limbic system, known as the BSTc, is structurally opposite to the transsexual’s genetic and genital sex. Therefore, the major neuronal population in the BSTc is related to the neurophysiology of transsexualism, as it is neurally correlated with transgendered identity.

Since the BSTc of the limbic system of the rat is essential to rodent sexual behavior, possesses estrogen and androgen receptors, and manifests sex differences in the size and number of BSTc neurons which are influenced by gonadal steroids during development, it is an excellent replica for experimental investigations of my theoretical proposal of the transgender hypothesis of the biological basis of gender identity disorders. Further, my theory of gender identity hypothesizes that transsexualism is potentially reversible through stem cell transplantation, in vivo induction of neurogenesis and molecular genetic procedures with viral vectors.

It is true that no psychotherapeutic “cures” for the spectrum of gender and sexual identities constitute evidence-based clinical practice — EBP — at the present time. The current treatment method is sexual reassignment surgery, yet animal models in the rat, as vigorously employed by Dr. Strand in her studies, are a prerequisite to the clinical trials on the causes of gender identity disorder and the efficacy of stem cell therapies, thus precluding the need for surgical reconstructions. We need to expand Dr. Strand’s pioneering neurophysiological studies in rodents to answer these major questions of gender identity.

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Unfortunately, at the time of my association with Fleur at NYU, I did not conceive of the transgender hypothesis to experimentally test the empirical consequences. Nevertheless, a rose by any other name is still a rose. Rest in peace, fleur de NYU: Fleur Strand.

A version of this article appeared in the April 30 print edition. Joseph Manago is a former professor at NYU. Email him at [email protected]

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