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Brain Scan on Ariel Sharon Shows Response to Stimuli

January 28, 2013

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Ariel Sharon was brought south to Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva and tested in BGU’s Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC), where thanks to AABGU a new state-of-the-art MRI was purchased, the most powerful medical imaging machine in Israel. 

The team conducting the tests at the BIRC included top neuroscientists such as BGU's Prof. Alon Friedman, head of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.

A brain scan performed on Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who had a devastating stroke seven years ago and is presumed to be in a vegetative state, revealed significant brain activity in response to external stimuli, raising the chances that he is able to hear and understand, a scientist involved in the test said Sunday.

Scientists showed Mr. Sharon, 84, pictures of his family, had him listen to a recording of the voice of one of his sons and used tactile stimulation to assess the extent of his brain’s response.

“We were surprised that there was activity in the proper parts of the brain,” said Prof. Alon Friedman, a neuroscientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a member of the team that carried out the test. “It raises the chances that he hears and understands, but we cannot be sure. The test did not prove that.”

The activity in specific regions of the brain indicated appropriate processing of the stimulations, according to a statement from Ben-Gurion University, but additional tests to assess Mr. Sharon’s level of consciousness were less conclusive.

“While there were some encouraging signs, these were subtle and not as strong,” the statement added.

The test was carried out last week Soroka University Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Beer-Sheva using a state-of-the-art MRI machine and methods recently developed by Prof. Martin M. Monti of the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Monti took part in the test, which lasted approximately two hours.

Mr. Sharon’s son Gilad said in October 2011 that he believed that his father responded to some requests. “When he is awake, he looks at me and moves fingers when I ask him to,” he said at the time, adding, “I am sure he hears me.”

Professor Friedman said in a telephone interview that the test results “say nothing about the future” but may be of some help to the family and the regular medical staff caring for Mr. Sharon at a hospital outside Tel Aviv.

“There is a small chance that he is conscious but has no way of expressing it,” Prof. Friedman said, but he added, “We do not know to what extent he is conscious.”

Learn more about the innovative brain research being conducted at BGU >>