Archive for July, 2010

Gay Games Cologne Diary: Part 3. The Home Stretch

Posted in The Fierceness on July 16, 2010 by jackmax2

Opening Ceremonies

The 2010 Gay games start in Cologne  on July 31st with the opening ceremonies. My very first Gay Games competition was in 1990 in Vancouver, Canada. I was 20 years old, and I had just come out to my Mom the year before. I remember having to tell my Aunt and Uncle who lived in Vancouver that I would like to stay with them because I was coming there to participate in the “Gay Games.” They were cool, and totally understood my implication without asking too many questions.

At that time, I was still struggling to become completely okay with my sexual orientation. That’s why I will never forget the moment I walked into the stadium during the parade of athletes during the opening ceremonies. I had never been around so many people like me. And after years of torment, to witness a stadium full of spectators cheering for me was unbelievable; and to this day, the sensation is still completely indescribable. All I ever tell anyone is that I was literally moved to tears.

Ever since then I have been an avid supporter and participant of the Gay Games, having swam in every single successive competition in New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, and in Chicago where I had a life-changing moment. I swam the breaststroke leg on a 4 X 50 meter medley relay that set the national record. We were only .8 seconds off the world record. And it was even more amazing because my Mom had traveled all the way from Seattle to be there in the stands to cheer me along and to watch me swim!

I have actually been a competitive swimmer since I was six years old. Throughout these many years, I have enjoyed swimming because, even though I now swim with a team, it’s actually a very solitary sport. I’ve never really had to fear teammates’ homophobia too much. I always knew that as long as I was a good swimmer, I would always be respected. And it is for this reason that the Gay Games are so important. All athletes of all levels of competition and sport from all around the world support each other in a way that I have never experienced at any other sporting event.

Since that first week in Vancouver nearly 20 years ago, I have managed to win at least one gold medal at every one of the competitions; though they get bigger and faster each time. My favorite games have been the ones outside of the United States because they attract more international athletes, which is also why I’m so excited about the upcoming games in Cologne, Germany. I swim with Team New York Aquatics (TNYA.org) and for the last 6 months I’ve been swimming at least 1.5 hours a day and lifting weights at the gym. Lately I’ve been running 5 miles a day to get my weight down. At 6 feet tall I weigh about 200 pounds and that’s a lot of weight to lug up and down the pool. It’s a lot of work for 8 events that all last less than one minute each.

The amazing thing about the Gay Games is that they encourage people of all abilities and shapes and sizes to participate. They also send a powerful message to the world about breaking away from gay stereotypes because we gays kick some serious ass!

As I mentioned above, for the upcoming games I’ve been training pretty intensely. I actually just returned from the US Nationals where I finished pretty closely to some of my all-time best times. And as a result of all of this training and competing, I do hope to come back from Cologne with some hardware, though it’s really more about the competition and the experience for me; I love meeting other athletes from around the world.

The swimming competition at the upcoming Gay Games in Cologne is six days long, so I’ll be pretty focused on that during that time. But afterwards, I’ve always enjoyed watching other sports competitions, and I hope to get that chance this year. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen same-sex pairs of figure skaters and synchronized swimmers. It’s amazing! I hope to see you there but I will be recapping my experience with lots of photos when I get back.

Go team New York!!

Advance in Quest for HIV Vaccine by Mark Schoofs

Posted in The Fierceness on July 12, 2010 by jackmax2

By MARK SCHOOFS

HIV research is undergoing a renaissance that could lead to new ways to develop vaccines against the AIDS virus and other viral diseases.

In the latest development, U.S. government scientists say they have discovered three powerful antibodies, the strongest of which neutralizes 91% of HIV strains, more than any AIDS antibody yet discovered. They are now deploying the technique used to find those antibodies to identify antibodies to influenza viruses.

Mark Schoofs discusses a significant step toward an AIDS vaccine, U.S. government scientists have discovered three powerful antibodies, the strongest of which neutralizes 91% of HIV strains, more than any AIDS antibody yet discovered.

The HIV antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man, known in the scientific literature as Donor 45, whose body made the antibodies naturally. The trick for scientists now is to develop a vaccine or other methods to make anyone’s body produce them as well.

That effort “will require work,” said Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was a leader of the research. “We’re going to be at this for a while” before any benefit is seen in the clinic, he said.

The research was published Thursday in two papers in the online edition of the journal Science, 10 days before the opening of a large International AIDS Conference in Vienna, where prevention science is expected to take center stage. More than 33 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2008, and about 2.7 million contracted the virus that year, according to United Nations estimates.

Vaccines, which are believed to work by activating the body’s ability to produce antibodies, eliminated or curtailed smallpox, polio and other feared viral diseases, so they have been the holy grail of AIDS research.

The Quest for a Vaccine

Last year, following a trial in Thailand, results of the first HIV vaccine to show any efficacy were announced. But that vaccine reduced the chances of infection only by about 30%, and controversy erupted because in one common analysis the results weren’t statistically significant. That vaccine wasn’t designed to elicit the new antibodies.

The new discovery is part of what Wayne Koff, head of research and development at the nonprofit International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, calls a “renaissance” in HIV vaccine research.

Antibodies that are utterly ineffective, or that disable just one or two HIV strains, are common. Until last year, only a handful of “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” those that efficiently disable a large swath of HIV strains, had been discovered. And none of them neutralized more than about 40% of known HIV variants.

But in the past year, thanks to efficient new detection methods, at least a half dozen broadly neutralizing antibodies, including the three latest ones, have been identified in peer-reviewed journals. Dennis Burton of the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif., led a team that discovered two broadly neutralizing antibodies last year; he says his team has identified additional, unpublished ones. Most of the new antibodies are more potent, able to knock out HIV at far lower concentrations than their previously known counterparts.

HIV is a highly mutable virus, but one place where the virus doesn’t mutate much is where it attaches to a particular molecule on the surface of cells it infects. Building on previous research, researchers created a probe, shaped exactly like that critical site, and used it to attract only those antibodies that efficiently attack it. That is how they fished out of Donor 45 the special antibodies: They screened 25 million of his cells to find 12 that produced the antibodies.

Donor 45′s antibodies didn’t protect him from contracting HIV. That is likely because the virus had already taken hold before his body produced the antibodies. He is still alive, and when his blood was drawn, he had been living with HIV for 20 years.

While he has produced the most powerful HIV antibody yet discovered, researchers say they don’t know of anything special about his genes that would make him unique. They expect that most people would be capable of producing the antibodies, if scientists could find the right way to stimulate their production.

Dr. Nabel said his team is applying the new technique to the influenza virus. Like HIV, influenza is a highly mutable virus—the reason a new vaccine is required every year.

“We want to go after a universal vaccine” by using the new technique to find antibodies to a “component of the influenza virus that doesn’t change,” said NIAID director Anthony Fauci. In principle, Dr. Fauci said, the technique could be used for any viral disease and possibly even for cancer vaccines.

Some of the new HIV antibodies discovered over the past year attack different points on the virus, raising hopes that they could work synergistically.

In unpublished research, John Mascola, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center, has shown that one of Dr. Burton’s antibodies neutralizes virtually all the strains that are resistant to the antibody from Donor 45. He also found the reverse: The antibody from Donor 45 disables HIV strains resistant to one of Dr. Burton’s best antibodies. Only one strain out of 95 tested was resistant to both antibodies, he said. Dr. Mascola is one of the authors of Thursday’s papers.

Researchers say they plan to test the new antibodies, likely blended together in a potent cocktail, in three broad ways.

First, the antibodies could be given to people in their raw form, somewhat like a drug, to prevent transmission of the virus. But they would likely be expensive and last in the body for a limited time, perhaps weeks, making that method impractical for all but specialized cases, such as to prevent mother-to-child transmission in childbirth.

The antibodies could also be tested in a “microbicide,” a gel that women or gay men could apply before sex to prevent infection.

[VACCINE]

The antibodies might even be tried as a treatment for people already infected. While the antibodies are unlikely to completely suppress HIV on their own, say scientists, they might boost the efficacy of current antiretroviral drugs.

Dr. Nabel said that the Vaccine Research Center has contracted with a company to produce an antibody suitable for use in humans so that testing in people could begin.

A second way to use the new research is to stimulate the immune system to produce the antibodies. Jonas Salk injected people with a whole killed polio virus, and virtually everyone’s immune system easily made antibodies that disabled the polio virus. But for HIV, the vast majority of antibodies are ineffective. Now, scientists know the exact antibodies that must be made—those found in Donor 45 and in Dr. Burton’s lab, for example. So researchers need “a reverse engineering technology” to find a way to get everyone to produce them, said Greg Poland, director of vaccine research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

That’s what scientists at Merck & Co. have done. In a study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Merck Scientists knew that an old antibody, weaker than the newly discovered ones, attaches to a particularly vulnerable part of HIV. They created a replica of that piece of the virus to train the immune system to produce antibodies aimed at that exact spot. It was a painstaking process, requiring researchers to add chemical bonds to stabilize the replica so that it wouldn’t collapse and lose its shape. Eventually, Merck was able to make experimental vaccine candidates capable of spurring guinea pigs and rabbits to produce antibodies that home in on the target site and neutralize HIV. Those vaccines weren’t nearly powerful enough, but, said Dr. Koff, Merck’s research provides a “proof of principle” that reverse engineering can work for the much stronger new antibodies.

There are other potential pitfalls. There is evidence that Donor 45′s cells took months or possibly even years to create the powerful antibodies. That means scientists might have to give repeated booster shots or devise other ways to speed up this process.

Finally, there are experimental methods that employ tactics such as gene therapy. Nobel laureate David Baltimore is working on one such approach.

His team at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., has stitched genes that code for antibodies into a harmless virus, which they then inject into mice. The virus infects mouse cells, turning them into factories that produce the antibodies.

Q n A with Jack Mackenroth for Night Times Boston

Posted in The Fierceness on July 11, 2010 by jackmax2

By Michael Fontana/ Eileen Dover

PHOTO: FRANKLOUIS.COM

Q: How are you Jack?

A: Doing good lady! You’re fabulous as usual. And by ‘fabulous I mean ‘hot tranny mess”.

Q: So where are you from originally?

A: Seattle, Washington. Pretty but dreary. The lesbians love it. Lots of fleece.

Q: What was it like for you growing up gay?

A: Well it was not so fun. I was very effeminate and I got picked on a lot and beat up in high school. But deep down I knew there was another life waiting for me. I just had to find it. Ugh that sounds so Wizard of OZ.

Q: How has life and your career been post project runway?

A: Really amazing. I think people have this misconception that if you go on a successful reality show that magically your life automatically becomes fabulous and you are a superstar. That couldn’t be more false. Viewers have about a 3-6 month memory and then they are onto the next show. Project Runway was really just a medium for exposure. Plus we had no control over how we were portrayed or received by the public. The real work comes after the show when people have forgotten about you. I could have easily gone back to being a designer at a very good job but I decided to run with the opportunities that came my way.

Q: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?

A:Yes. Most of them actually. My best friends are Christian Siriano, Kevin Christiana and Kit Scarbo, known as Kit Pistol on the show. I keep in touch with most of the others but we are not close friends. And I know several of the designers from the other seasons. I’m slated to be the official blogger for the upcoming season. We shall see…

Q: Any men in your life?

A: Not really. At least not for very long. (wink) I’m working on it. I am so busy and I travel so much that it would be hard to have a boyfriend right now. I want one but I have a feeling he would resent me for ignoring him. Anyone feel free to email me with a headshot and resume.

Q: What do you look for in potential love interest?

A: Good Credit.

Seriously, I am REALLY attracted to talent of any kind. He would also have to be totally cool with the HIV thing. It needs to be a non-issue whether he is + or -.  My eyes tend to dart to tattooed, swarthy muscle-boys but none of my x-boyfriends look like that so go figure. I also have a shaved head fetish.

Q: If you weren’t doing fashion what other artistic medium would you like to do?

A: I do a lot of them. I throw pottery on the wheel, I paint, I knit, I make sculptures. Right now I’m REALLY interested in video editing. I can’t cook and I can’t do anything having to do with music. I sing like a screeching howler monkey.

Q: What do you think of drag as an art form?

A: I think it’s amazing. I’m a huge fan of drag performers. They are severely underappreciated. I’m currently producing a web series called The Queens of Drag: NYC. It’s like a Real Housewives format except the cast is actually talented. We have all the fiercest ‘girls’ from New York—Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine, Bianca Del Rio, Hedda Lettuce, Peppermint and on and on….It’s set to launch on June 21st.

Q: Would you ever do drag for fun or for show?

A:I used to do drag on occasion on Halloween or for Wigstock back in the 90’s. But as a designer I like to go big so I invest a lot of time in making my outfits. I just don’t have the time anymore. Plus I’m too muscular and I end up looking like a line backer in a tube top.

Q: I hear you’re quite the athlete… Care to elaborate?

A: HAHA. Yeah. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was 6. I train about 5 times a week in the pool and lift weights about 6 times a week. I just swam at Nationals in Atlanta last month and I am currently training for the Gay Games in Cologne, which starts at the end of July. I’m gonna come correct.

Q: Who is your dream client?

A: HMMMM. Its cliché to say Lady Gaga because everyone wants to design for her now, but she’s amazing because she wears art and she is not concerned with looking pretty like so many celebrities. I don’t have a dream client. Maybe Linda Evangelista just because I worship her. Or Alec Mapa because she’s just a wisp of a girl.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Well I’m still designing but on a commission only basis. I’m producing the drag show I mentioned before. I also just shot a pilot called “Who Wore It Best” for the Oxygen network so I’m waiting to hear about that. I’m writing a book that I hope to finish by Christmas. I do a radio show on Sunday nights at 9 PM EST on blogtalkradio.com/POZIAM where we talk about HIV issues. And I travel all over the country speaking at colleges and events about HIV education and my personal experience living with HIV for 20 years. I blog. I do photo shoots. Oh yeah. And I swim. A lot. There’s probably some more stuff in there somewhere. It’s a sketchpot that changes on a daily basis.

Q: What is the most important issue facing the LGBT community today in your opinion?

A: Equal rights. Though all issues are important.

Q: Do you think gay men have become apathetic about HIV?

A: I think it’s a generalization but in many cases yes. If you lived through the devastation of the 80’s and 90’s you tend not to be apathetic. But since the stigma of being HIV+ is so intense, many people will not disclose their status. We don’t hear about HIV like we used to. Since treatments are so much better than they used to be I think the fear factor has dissipated. It’s still a potentially fatal disease with no cure. There are people like me who are doing very well but there are also many people who really struggle and are still dying of AIDS.

Q: Do you think we need all the letters? Like LGBTQQIA Etc.? I’m confused maybe we should add a C for confused.

LOVE IT!!  I have know idea what most of those letters stand for, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Androgynous?  Just use the entire alphabet. It’s easier to remember because of the cute melody associated with it.

Q: Michael Kors… Brilliant designer: or sassy contest judge? I find his fashions to be…kinda scary SHHHH don’t tell him I said that!!

A: He’s fine. He was the best judge from a technical standpoint because he understands how difficult the garments are to make. Plus he is the queen of sassy sound bites and the producers LOVE that. I think he is a good designer. It’s ironic that Project Runway beats you over the head about innovation and Michael is so mass market. But his clothes are really beautiful.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model?

A: Yes. I feel a responsibility now that I didn’t feel before. I know from facebook messages and emails that a lot of people really look up to me. So I’m quite conscious of that.

Q: What would you say to an aspiring artist of any orientation who feels they can’t achieve their dreams? So many artists face the scrutiny of naysayers. What say you?

Well my theory is that if you absolutely love something enough to sacrifice for it then you will probably be successful. Nothing comes easily like you see on TV. You have to work your ass off. But if you are willing to do that and persevere when countless people tell you “no” then you will achieve some degree of success—whatever that means.

Thanks Jack for “sitting down for a chat” and thank you for being a role model. I wish I had someone like you to look up to when I came out as a teenager and I’m so glad that we have amazing people like you to give the LGBT youth of today people they can not only be proud of but aspire to follow. You’re not just a handsome guy but also a dynamic artist and a brave man whose overcome challenges and adversity to follow your dreams and I personally want to thank you! You rock!

To contact Jack or find his fashions please go to Jackmackenroth.com.

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