Glaucoma Researcher Mansour F. Armaly, 78, Dies

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mansour F. Armaly, 78, chairman of George Washington University Medical Center's ophthalmology department for 26 years and whose research aided the early detection of glaucoma, died of cancer Aug. 19 at the hospital where he used to work.

Dr. Armaly was internationally known for some of the first modern scientific research into glaucoma. He discovered how glaucoma starts and progresses, developed early detection and monitoring techniques, and identified the genetic character of the disease.

His role in modern glaucoma research cannot be overestimated, said Paul R. Lichter, director of the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center and chairman of the college's ophthalmology department. "Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness in the world and also in this country, and Dr. Armaly's work was pioneering."

In the 1950s, while on a graduate medical fellowship at the University of Iowa, the Palestinian immigrant noted the poor state of glaucoma research and launched a long-term population study of people without eye disease. The study lasted 13 years, but his findings in the first two years were so startling that a national collaborative study was organized, which he led. The research focused on damage to the optic nerve, the role of genetics in eye disease and other factors that contribute to glaucoma.

"He developed a standard method of measuring the field of vision," said E. Michael van Buskirk, retired chairman of Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Ore. "His work was also key in ocular hypertension, the precursor to glaucoma. Over the years, the concept has been revised, but he was key to the concept."

Dr. Armaly was a practitioner as well as a researcher and an administrator. He was on the team of physicians who operated on James S. Brady, the presidential press secretary who was wounded during the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life. Dr. Armaly operated on Brady's left eye and eyelid within minutes of the shooting.

His practice drew many prominent Washingtonians and international visitors. A tall man with an imposing presence, Dr. Armaly needed few words to get his point across, a colleague said.

"He was very charming and was very respectful of his patients, [and] he would not let patients get lost," said Mohamad S. Jaafar, chairman of ophthalmology at Children's National Medical Center. "He presented the findings and treatment in a clear and candid fashion and would not muddy the waters."

Under his direction, GWU's ophthalmology outpatient clinic drew 25,000 patient-visits a year. He developed close working affiliations with other area hospitals, including Children's and the Veterans Administration hospitals in Washington and West Virginia.

Dr. Armaly published more than 100 scientific articles, received multiple research grants from the National Institutes of Health and lectured extensively around the world. He received a number of awards from the World Glaucoma Congress, the International Congress of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. He also received an award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the University of Iowa introduced a yearly lecture series in his honor.

Dr. Armaly was born in Shefa Amr, Palestine, before Israel was established. He enrolled at the American University of Beirut, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1947 and his medical degree in 1951. After completing his residency in Beirut at the American University Hospital in 1955, he applied for ophthalmology research fellowships in the United States. He entered the University of Iowa, where he received a master's degree in ophthalmology in 1957.

He became a U.S. citizen, as did his family, and remained at Iowa for the next 13 years, developing one of the world's leading laboratories in glaucoma research. In 1970, he moved to GWU Medical Center, where he was professor and department chairman until his retirement in 1996.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Aida Armaly of Washington; two children, Fareed Armaly of Berlin and Dr. Raya Armaly Harrison of Columbia; a brother; four sisters; and two grandsons.

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