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Ariel Sharon's Brain Responds In Tests
Seven years after having a massive stroke, the comatose former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has surprised his doctors by displaying some consciousness.
"We didn't expect to see any response after such a long time of partially vegetative state, and it was a very emotional situation to see," said Doctor Ilan Shelef, head of the diagnostic imaging department at Israel's Soroka Medical Centre.
Using an MRI scan on Thursday, a joint Israeli-American team examined Mr Sharon's brain to test its function.
The machine detected some brain activity when the 84-year-old was shown photographs of his family and also when asked to imagine his home.
Alon Friedman, a neurological director at the medical centre, said the findings suggest that despite Mr Sharon's comatose state he might be listening, and some important information goes into his brain and is being processed.
"We know that he can process pictures, pictures of faces, and he can even differentiate between, for example, pictures of faces and pictures of houses, pictures of his family to other objects," he said.
"He can, for example, differentiate between words that were spoken to him by his son, compared to noise."
However, doctors say the results of the tests do not mean the former general and right-wing politician turned peacemaker is about to wake up from the coma he has been in since having a stroke in January 2006.
"We cannot project anything, the point is that for his family and for the treating team we now know that he can take information and process it," said Mr Friedman.
The experts further explained that to some extent Mr Sharon is what they call 'locked in' - he understands and responds with his brain but cannot activate any muscles.
Mr Friedman said Mr Sharon's eyes were open for at least part of the time when he responded to the sight of family photographs.
More surprising were signs the machine showed that Mr Sharon had processed a request to imagine various scenes such as his home, Friedman said, adding that Mr Sharon's brain had also shown signs of responding to his son, Gilad's voice.
"At some level he was conscious and this is very important for the family," Mr Friedman said, adding that he saw the results as contributing to data about potential stimuli scientists hope may some day help them awaken certain patients from a coma.
Mr Sharon's illness came just weeks after he made a dramatic exit from the right-wing Likud party to found a centrist faction in the hope of advancing peace moves with the Palestinians.