Leukemia Survivor Gets Help in a Clinical Trial

In 1995, Mel Mann lived an active lifestyle and served all over the world in the Army infantry. But then he developed back pain that wouldn’t go away. An MRI revealed something suspicious with his bone marrow. After multiple blood tests and a marrow aspiration, 37-year-old Mann was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

His doctor told him he had only 3 years to live, unless he had a bone marrow transplant. “I was in shock, and I thought about my daughter, Patrice, who was 5 at the time,” Mann said. “I was thinking that she won’t remember me when she gets older. I was trying to remember what I could remember when I was 8, and things were fuzzy.”

The miracle drug

"With Gleevec, I take 1 pill every day and I go out and do what I want to do. I can run a marathon, lift weights, swim, tai chi, or golf, fish; you know... anything."

Mel Mann

For the next 3 years, Mann was involved in countless bone marrow drives, but never found a match. Finding a match can be a difficult and time-consuming process that is never guaranteed. His sister did not match, and neither did anyone on the national registry.

He was 7 months past his 3-year mark when he enrolled in a clinical trial for a drug called STI-571, later named Gleevec (imatinib). Mann’s doctor led the trial for Gleevec at MD Anderson.

Gleevec works by targeting a protein that causes CML cells to grow and multiply. The first drug it its class, it led the way for other targeted therapies used to treat CML.

“It started slowly changing my marrow back to normal,” Mann said. “With Gleevec, I take 1 pill every day and I go out and do what I want to do. I can run a marathon, lift weights, swim, tai chi, or golf, fish; you know – anything.” In fact, 6 months after starting treatment, he ran a marathon in Alaska. Mann did experience side effects from Gleevec including fatigue, water retention, and cramps, but they were all manageable for him.

Getting his life back

Mann has been on Gleevec for more than 17 years. He watched his daughter graduate from high school and Harvard College before going on to medical school. “It’s almost overwhelming how special it feels to have my dad at all these different milestones,” his daughter, Patrice, said.

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