Israel's Sharon exhibits brain activity

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JERUSALEM -- Seven years after a massive stroke removed him from office and left him in a vegetative state, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is able to process information and has exhibited "robust activity" in his brain, according to doctors who conducted recent tests.

Some hoped Sharon might regain consciousness, But experts said that was unlikely. The medical team that tested him last week said yesterday the scans showed Sharon, 84, responding to pictures of his family and recordings of his son's voice. They cautioned, however, that it wasn't clear how much he understood, stressing the chances of his regaining full capacities are almost zero.

"We were surprised to see such robust activity in his brain," said Dr. Alon Friedman, head of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. "The information is getting in and is getting processed. He hears what they are saying. To what extent he understands, we cannot say for sure . . . but there are encouraging hints that he does."

Sharon was at the height of his political power in early 2006 when a devastating stroke incapacitated him. He has been in a deep coma ever since, connected to a respirator.

Last week Israeli and U.S. scientists performed a series of tests, using a new functional MRI to assess his brain function. Friedman said the two-hour procedure was among the first of its type on someone who had suffered such a brain hemorrhage and on someone Sharon's age. -- AP

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