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Lisa Vanderpump delivers Project Angel Food’s 12 millionth meal to Bill LaVallee

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As the world churned on Thursday, aghast at Donald Trump’s dangerous incitement of racism directed toward a Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota, a small bright miracle happened in Hollywood that attests to the beam of goodness in the heart of humanity.

Bill LaVallee, a hero to many in the Los Angeles 12 Step recovery community, opened the door of his one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles LGBT Center-run Triangle Square Apartment complex to find Reality TV executive producer/star and philanthropist Lisa Vanderpump standing there with his dinner, the 12,000,000 meal made and delivered by Project Angel Food since its inception in 1989. He had voted for her on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The moment was incredibly special. Both Vanderpump and LaValle had volunteered for Project Angel Food during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1989 when both were struggling actors. “Today, Angel Food generously delivers to the ill, the crippled and the aged like me at 82,” LaVallee, who has psoriatic arthritis, wrote on his Facebook page.

It had already been an eventful morning. Project Angel Food’s headquarters was packed with media covering the historic event – and the opportunity to snag an interview with the 58-year-old Bravo pop icon who had quit The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after 9 seasons, the last filled with mean-girl animus toward the star.

“There’s been a lot of negativity from the fans and I want that to stop,” Vanderpump told Us Weekly. “I do. Because it’s amazing to have their support, but you don’t need to go down a negative path. It’s been a very difficult year for me. I’ve only been back a couple days after losing my mother. I just want to focus on the greater good.”

Lisa Vanderpump talks to the media (Photo by Austin Mendoza)

“I have no regrets in leaving the series,” the executive producer and star of Vanderpump Rules told the media. “It allows me to focus on things that really matter, like being here for Project Angel Food on such an important day.”

In fact Vanderpump had flown back from London after burying her mother Jean (one year after the suicide of her brother Mark) specifically because she made a commitment to Project Angel Food Executive Director Richard Ayoub to dedicate and serve the non-profit’s 12 millionth meal and she wanted to keep her commitment.

“I first became involved with Project Angel Food in late 1989, so when Richard called and asked me to deliver the 12-millionth meal, I was so honored and humbled, really,” she said, tearing up. “There is nowhere I would rather be than here.  It is important that we do what we can to give back to the community.”

Lisa Vanderpump and Richard Ayoub (Photo by Charlie Steffens) 

“This is a very special day for us, because what would Los Angeles be like without Project Angel Food? What would it be like if thousands of people in LA didn’t care about their suffering neighbors?” Ayoub asked. “It’s really amazing that we don’t need to think about that because Project Angel Food has a halo of love.”

Project Angel Food was co-founded by motivational speaker Marianne Williamson (now a 2020 presidential candidate) and grief expert David Kessler in 1989 in response to the devastating second wave of AIDS in Los Angeles County. The non-profit subsequently expanded its mission to serve those battling HIV/AIDS, cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and other debilitating and life-threatening illnesses with daily “medically tailored” nutritious meals delivered to 1,400 men, women and children (their youngest client is 16 years old) prepared by 50 full-time staff and over 4,700 volunteers.

Project Angel Food also serves as a lifeline, as 97% of their clients are living at or below the poverty level while combatting their medical conditions. “Approximately 97% of Project Angel Food clients are living at or below the poverty level, and Project Angel Food is their lifeline, filling a vital need in all communities. The client demographics are testimony to this: 37% Latino, 29% African-American, 22% Caucasian, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American and 5% Multicultural,” said Brad Bessey, who helped produce the event.

“This is such a great gift that we have to share it with all of Los Angeles,” said Ayoub, “for us to hit this milestone of twelve million meals is phenomenal. They’re delivered with love.”

KTLA reporter Jenn McGraw and head chef John Gordon. (Photo by Charlie Steffens)

“It’s not about me. I’m happy to draw attention to it, but it’s about the unsung heroes here – the people who work here constantly every day, the chef that’s been here 25 years,” Vanderpump told the Los Angeles Blade.

Project Angel Food was selected as Nonprofit of the Year by California State Senator Ben Allen, in addition to being voted “Best Nonprofit” by Los Angeles Blade readers. The organization was also given the Rainbow Key Award in June by the City of West Hollywood.

Vanderpump and Ayoub both encouraged the LGBT community to volunteer and get involved. “It’s just about being a compassionate person. I’m not saying you have to donate your whole life to being philanthropic, but certainly everybody can do something. I think that’s the message here today,” said Vanderpump.

LISA VANDERPUMP at the celebration of Project Angel Food serving its 12-millionth meal at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charlie Steffens)

ARIANA MADIX (L) and LISA VANDERPUMP at the celebration of Project Angel Food serving its 12-millionth meal at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charlie Steffens)

The 12-millionth meal was taped for an episode of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules. But as sometimes happens in life, as well as Reality TV, there are mishaps. In this case, an amusing mishap.

Project Angel Food’s 12-millionth meal was Chicken Milano with Fettuccine.  However, LaValle is a vegetarian. Luckily, the error was discovered in time and the meal and the 12 millionth meal label were switched before Vanderpump and Ayoub delivered it in person to LaVallee in his Triangle Square apartment in Hollywood. They laughed and shared memories. LaVallee told Vanderpump that he had been an actor in Hollywood in the 1960’s and had kissed Elizabeth Taylor.

Vanderpump autographed the Project Angel Food label for him.

Later, LaVallee posted this story about the visit to his Facebook page—how Project Angel Food changed his life.

“Long, long story: I just was delivered the 12,000,000 meal of Angel Food by the beautiful Lisa Vanderpump, a surprise and great honor, not only because of my long history with Angel Food,, having delivered it to people with HIV and/or AIDS way long ago. Today, Angel Food generously delivers to the ill, the crippled and the aged like me at 82,

Decades before on one fateful day, when starting my deliveries, I was shocked to discover that a deep, great love of mine from the 1970′ s was on the list of sick men and women who had AIDS and received meals.. I asked the wonderful actress in charge of the food deliveries, Freddie Weber, if my buddy, Michael Snyder and I could add his name to our list and deliver meals to him. She agreed and it brought about a great and welcomed change in my life.

On that first visit, when he opened the front door that incredible day, I stood trembling not knowing what would happen. In great surprise to see me, his eyes widened and his jaw nearly dropped to the floor. As we both dissolved in tears, he grabbed me in a big bear hug, almost crushing me against his once gigantic muscular 6’3” frame, which by then was almost skeletal. As the three of us visited through the afternoon I tearfully accepted his amends to me and I made an amends to him.

Then, Michael and I delivered meals to him for the rest of his life.
All of the bitterness/sadness/anger over the past melted away into a deep, ever-lasting love which grew every day that we arrived at his house..

When he died, in 1990, my daughter Shawn and I went to the church for his gigantically attended memorial service.. Shawn had worked for him as his stage manager the period after he and I had separated.

We arrived at the steps of the church at the same moment his wife did, and the crowds on the grounds of the church lawn had parted as if Moses had just made a path through the crowds — for her and me.

As we all reached the steps of the church we stopped dead, she said something like “It’s kind of silly to be angry at this point, isn’t it?” I nodded my head, she put her arm through mine and led me and my daughter through the entire crowd of theatrical personalities who had come to the service. We reached and sat with her and his children in the front pew of church for the entire beautiful service for him.

Today, I was delivered the 12,000,000 meal of the delicious Angel Food meals. They knew this story and I was honored with this meal. A circle of life has been completed once again… blv”

If you would like to get involved with Project Angel Food, visit www.angelfood.org for more information. — Austin Mendoza contributed to this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AIDS and HIV

New highly-infectious variant of HIV discovered by Dutch scientists

This new variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”

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The human immunodeficiency virus in the bloodstream (Photo Credit: NIH/CDC)

CAMBRIDGE, UK – A study published this week by Science (journal) detailed an alarming discovery by researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists in the Netherlands of a new, highly-infectious mutated variant strain of the human immunodeficiency virus, (HIV), circulating in the country.

The BEEHIVE project – which stands for “bridging the epidemiology and evolution of HIV in Europe and Uganda,” detailed the findings which showed that a distinct subtype-B viral variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”, and those with this variant were at a higher risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The variant, known as the “VB variant”, causes CD4 cell decline to occur twice as fast in infected individuals compared with other viral variants. This is a clinical hallmark, or “signature” of the extent of damage caused by the HIV virus. In addition, those infected with the VB variant also demonstrated an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others, the data suggests.

Individuals infected with the new “VB variant” (for virulent subtype B) showed significant differences before antiretroviral treatment compared with individuals infected with other HIV variants:

  • Individuals with the VB variant had a viral load (the level of the virus in the blood) between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher.
  • In addition, the rate of CD4 cell decline (the hallmark of immune system damage by HIV) occurred twice as fast in individuals with the VB variant, placing them at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly.
  • Individuals with the VB variant also showed an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The project’s researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists did determine however, that those infected with the VB variant had “similar immune system recovery and survival to individuals with other HIV variants.”

However, the researchers stress that because the VB variant causes a more rapid decline in immune system strength, this makes it critical that individuals are diagnosed early and start treatment as soon as possible.

BEEHIVE project‘s lead author Dr Chris Wymant, from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “Before this study, the genetics of the HIV virus were known to be relevant for virulence, implying that the evolution of a new variant could change its impact on health. Discovery of the VB variant demonstrated this, providing a rare example of the risk posed by viral virulence evolution.”

“Our findings emphasize the importance of World Health Organization guidance that individuals at risk of acquiring HIV have access to regular testing to allow early diagnosis, followed by immediate treatment. This limits the amount of time HIV can damage an individual’s immune system and jeopardise their health. It also ensures that HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which prevents transmission to other individuals,” Senior author Professor Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, added.

In its Global HIV & AIDS statistics — Fact sheet, the UNAIDS Secretariat detailed the statistical data: 

GLOBAL HIV STATISTICS

  • 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy as of 30 June 2021.
  • 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people globally were living with HIV in 2020.
  • 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people became newly infected with HIV in 2020.
  • 680 000 [480 000–1.0 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2020. 
  • 79.3 million [55.9 million–110 million] people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic.
  • 36.3 million [27.2 million–47.8 million] people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

People living with HIV                                                                          

  • In 2020, there were 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people living with HIV.
    • 36.0 million [28.9 million–43.2 million] adults.
    • 1.7 million [1.2 million–2.2 million] children (0–14 years).
    • 53% of all people living with HIV were women and girls.
  • 84% [67– >98%] of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status in 2020.
  • About 6.1 million [4.9 million–7.3 million] people did not know that they were living with HIV in 2020.

People living with HIV accessing antiretroviral therapy

  • As of 30 June 2021, 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 7.8 million [6.9 million–7.9 million] in 2010.
  • In 2020, 73% [56–88%] of all people living with HIV were accessing treatment.
    • 74% [57–90%] of adults aged 15 years and older living with HIV had access to treatment, as did 54% [37–69%] of children aged 0–14 years.
    • 79% [61–95%] of female adults aged 15 years and older had access to treatment; however, just 68% [52–83%] of male adults aged 15 years and older had access.
  • 85% [63– >98%] of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their child in 2020.

New HIV infections

  • New HIV infections have been reduced by 52% since the peak in 1997.
    • In 2020, around 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people were newly infected with HIV, compared to 3.0 million [2.1 million–4.2 million] people in 1997.
    • Women and girls accounted for 50% of all new infections in 2020.
  • Since 2010, new HIV infections have declined by 31%, from 2.1 million [1.5 million–2.9 million] to 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] in 2020.
    • Since 2010, new HIV infections among children have declined by 53%, from 320 000 [210 000–510 000] in 2010 to 150 000 [100 000–240 000] in 2020.

AIDS-related deaths

  • AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 64% since the peak in 2004 and by 47% since 2010.
    • In 2020, around 680 000 [480 000–1 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide, compared to 1.9 million [1.3 million–2.7 million] people in 2004 and 1.3 million [910 000–1.9 million] people in 2010.
  • AIDS-related mortality has declined by 53% among women and girls and by 41% among men and boys since 2010.
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AIDS and HIV

‘Promising’ HIV vaccine study conducted at George Washington University

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform”

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Courtesy of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences is one of four sites across the country in which a preliminary component of an experimental HIV vaccine is being given to volunteer participants in a study aimed at reversing years of failed attempts to develop an effective HIV vaccine by pursuing what study sponsors say is a new, promising approach.

The study, which involves 56 healthy, HIV-negative volunteer participants, is being conducted by the nonprofit scientific research organization known as IAVI and the biotechnology company Moderna, which developed one of the coronavirus vaccines now being used throughout the world.

In a Jan. 27 joint statement, IAVI and Moderna said their study is part of a Phase 1 trial designed to test newly developed experimental HIV vaccine antigens to determine if they will lead to the development of an effective HIV vaccine.  

According to scientific literature, antigens are substances such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that induce the body to release antibodies that fight off infections. The statement by IAVI and Moderna says a vaccine technology developed by Moderna to use another component of the human body called messenger RNA or mRNA to strengthen a potential vaccine’s ability to fight off infection by HIV is also a part of this vaccine study.

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform,” Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of IAVI, says in the statement. “The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine,” he says in the statement.

The statement says that scientific teams at IAVI and the biotechnology firm Scripps Research helped to develop the HIV vaccine antigens being tested in the trials taking place at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and at locations in Atlanta, Ga., Seattle, Wash., and San Antonio, Tex.

It says the trial involving the 56 volunteer participants — who are divided among the four sites — began on Jan. 27 and is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Among those calling the IAVI-Moderna trial an important step in HIV vaccine development is Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“This is a variation of a theme,” Dieffenbach told the Washington Blade. “IAVI in collaboration with NIH did a version of this study already with a protein form of this immunogen,” Dieffenbach said. He said that study worked out well and was published in a scientific journal.

“What’s unique about this latest study is they’re using RNA to deliver the vaccine rather than a protein,” said Dieffenbach. “So, this is an important step for us in the vaccine field, that they can now compare the protein to the RNA.”

Dieffenbach said the IAVI-Moderna trial is taking place after two other recently completed HIV vaccine studies involving human trials that NIAID was involved in resulted in findings that the two experimental HIV vaccines were ineffective. He said a third HIV vaccine study NIAID is involved in that is taking place in the U.S. and South America is expected to be completed in about a year.

The ongoing study in the Americas involves men who have sex with men and transgender individuals as those participating in that vaccine trial, he said.

Dieffenbach said in addition to the vaccine studies, NIAID is monitoring at least two studies of medication aimed at curing HIV. One of the studies was conducted by HIV researcher Dr. Timothy Schacker, who serves as Vice Dean for research at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Schacker arranged for human trials of people who are HIV positive and taking standard anti-retroviral HIV medication to be given an experimental HIV cure medication developed by the biotechnology company ImmunityBio called Anktiva, according to a Jan. 31 statement released by ImmunityBio.

The statement says the trials showed promising results in the ability of Anktiva to induce the immune system of HIV-positive patients under standard HIV treatment who participated in the study to “kill” the latent or “hidden” HIV in their body that would otherwise reactivate and cause illness if they stopped taking HIV medication.

The goal of the development of Anktiva is to “rid the body of the virus for good and eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy,” the company’s statement says.

Dieffenbach said his office was also monitoring an HIV cure study being conducted by the Rockville, Md., based genetic engineering company called American Gene Technologies. The company is conducting a human trial for a therapeutic treatment it has developed that’s intended to enable the immune system of HIV-positive people to permanently eliminate HIV from their bodies. The company has said it was hopeful that early results of the effectiveness of the treatment would become available this year.

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AIDS and HIV

Federal blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

The study is aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood

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FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland (Photo Credit: FDA/GSA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – Washington D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within ,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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