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April 15, 2014
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Researchers have found that scans that look for signs of metabolic activity in specific areas of the brain could help doctors predict whether a person in a vegetative state will regain consciousness.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal The Lancet. Researchers in Belgium tracked about 120 subjects — diagnosed as either minimally conscious, locked in, or unresponsively wakeful (vegetative) — for at least one year. When images of the brain were taken with a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, the researchers accurately predicted 74 percent of the time if a patient would show signs of consciousness a year later, and 92 percent of the time if they would remain in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.

In the 41 patients deemed in a vegetative state using normal tests, the PET scan found previously undetected minimal consciousness in 13. A year later, nine of the 13 had progressed into at least a minimally conscious state, three had died, and one was still in a vegetative state.

The metabolic patterns of a brain in a vegetative state look different from those of a brain with intermittent consciousness, the researchers found. The prognosis was best for those who had survived traumatic brain injury, as opposed to someone whose brain was damaged due to hypoxia, a prolonged interruption of oxygenated blood to the brain.

The findings show that PET scans paint a clearer picture of the patient's outcome than the more widely available functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. The difference between the two is that PET scans detect signs of metabolic activity, while an fMRI detects activity in certain brain regions by looking for oxygenation.

The new research could provide hope, or at least guidance, for the families of vegetative patients. But not all patients with hopeful PET scans will recover. "We shouldn't give these families false hope," report author Steven Laureys tells The New York Times. "This is very difficult. But it's just a very complex medical reality. Quantifying consciousness is tricky." Catherine Garcia

10:12 p.m. ET
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It's no "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco," but by dubbing Donald Trump "Mr. Macho," Bernie Sanders is giving him a slight taste of his own medicine.

Trump has famously come up with nicknames for his rivals on both the Republican and Democratic sides, and on Monday, Sanders took a stab at it. While speaking to supporters in Oakland, California, Sanders declared, "Let me not worry about Hillary Clinton right now. Let me worry about Donald Trump — this big, brave, macho guy, my goodness. He said he wanted to debate Bernie Sanders, then he said he didn't, and then he said he did, and then he said he didn't. So I say to Mr. Macho that I am open to a debate anytime, any place here in the state of California, hopefully before the June 7 primary."

Last week, Sanders and Trump went back and forth about debating after the idea came up during the presumptive Republican nominee's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Sanders said he was game, but on Friday Trump announced it was "inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher." Catherine Garcia

8:53 p.m. ET

On Monday, more than 100 rescuers in Japan frantically searched for a missing seven-year-old boy, who was left behind in the woods as a form of punishment.

The boy, Yamato Tanooka, has been missing for two days on northern Hokkaido island, in an area known to have bears. A police spokesperson told NBC News his parents first said they became separated from their son while foraging in the woods for plants, but later a family member told police the boy was left as a "form of discipline." The police did not say why Tanooka was being punished or how long he was left alone, but local media reports he was disciplined for throwing rocks at cars and was out of sight for five minutes.

In an appearance on Japanese television, Tanooka's father, whose name is being withheld, said he wanted to "apologize to my son, also for causing trouble for so many people. I'm just filled with the feeling hoping that he comes back safely." Catherine Garcia

8:14 p.m. ET

Donald Trump spent his Memorial Day weekend the same way he spent every other day this year: Fighting on Twitter.

This time, his target was The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol. The kerfuffle started Sunday, when Kristol tweeted, "Just a heads up over this holiday weekend: There will be an independent candidate — an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance." Trump wasted no time responding with an insult for Kristol wrapped in a piece of advice for Republicans. "Bill Kristol has been wrong for 2yrs — an embarrassed loser, but if the GOP can't control their own, then they are not a party. Be tough, R's!" He later tweeted, "The Republican Party has to be smart & strong if it wants to win in November. Can't allow lightweights to set up a spoiler Indie candidate!" and "If dummy Bill Kristol actually does get a spoiler to run as an Independent, say good bye to the Supreme Court!"

Kristol is a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, and told CNN on Monday morning he couldn't spill any more details on the alleged independent candidate because there are "still lots of I's to dot and T's to cross." On Monday evening, a clearly pleased with himself Kristol tweeted, "I'm traveling, so hadn't realized I'd so upset @realDonaldTrump. I'm sorry the mere mention of an independent candidate has so unnerved him." He then got in one more jab: "I hope my mention of an independent candidate didn't distract him while paying respects during whichever Memorial Day ceremony he attended." Trump hasn't responded to Kristol's latest tweets, having already moved on to a new opponent: Judge Gonzalo Curiel, "the totally biased" judge in his Trump University case. Catherine Garcia

7:14 p.m. ET
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The former president of Chad, Hissene Habre, was sentenced to life in prison Monday for war crimes, crimes against humanity, rape, forced sexual slavery and kidnapping.

He served as president from 1982 to 1990, and during that time 40,000 people were killed and thousands more kidnapped, raped, and tortured. The 73-year-old's case was heard by a special tribunal organized by the African Union, under a deal with Senegal, and it was the first time a country prosecuted a former head of another country for rights abuses, Agence France-Presse reports. Over the course of the 10-month trial, Hasse refused to address the court, and never recognized its authority. He has two weeks to appeal the sentence.

Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam said Habre presided over "a system where impunity and terror were the law," and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the verdict proved "nobody is above the law." In 1990, after he was ousted by current president Idriss Deby, Habre and his wife and children fled to Senegal. Human Rights Watch says his conviction for raping a woman is a first by an international court trying an ex-world leader, and lawyers for the victims are planning on filing civil suits to obtain compensation. Catherine Garcia

12:50 p.m. ET

On Monday, President Obama marked his last Memorial Day in office with a White House breakfast reception for veterans groups and families of service members killed in combat, followed by a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. At Arlington, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating the members of the U.S. military who died in service of their country.

Obama spoke of the duty the rest of the country has to care for the loved ones of fallen soldiers and veterans. "We need to be there not just when we need them, but when they need us," Obama said. He noted that 20 service members have died in combat in the past year, a reminder that the U.S. is fighting in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. You can watch Obama lay the wreath and hear the military band play the Star Spangled Banner in the video below. Peter Weber

12:02 p.m. ET

Mass bleaching caused by global warming and El Niño has killed 35 percent of the coral in the northern and central parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef in just the past few months, scientists said Monday. The southern section of the 1,400-mile reef has seen only minor damage. Warming waters have been causing bleaching in reefs around the world for two years, but the damage in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's east coast has occurred over just two months. Bleached coral that hasn't died can recover if the water temperature drops. You can learn more, including how the report is affecting Australian politics, in the Associated Press report below. Harold Mass

11:24 a.m. ET

Mexican police rescued international soccer star Alan Pulido hours after he was kidnapped in northeast Mexico. Pulido, 25, appeared at a brief news conference on Monday and told reporters he was "very well." He had a bandage on his right hand. Pulido, a striker who has played for Mexico's national team several times, was leaving a party with his girlfriend on Saturday night in Ciudad Victoria in Tamaulipas state when their car was surrounded by several trucks. Pulido was taken away, and his girlfriend was left unharmed. You can watch Pulido's news conference below. Harold Mass

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