Dr. Camras, inventor of most effective glaucoma drug, dies

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Carl Camras, M.D.
Carl Camras, M.D., the UNMC physician whose research led to the discovery of the most effective drug for treating glaucoma, died Tuesday at his home in Omaha after a long battle with heart failure.

Dr. Camras, who was 55, served as chairman of the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences since 2000. He came to UNMC in 1991 as a tenured professor of ophthalmology.

"Carl was a great physician and leader," said UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D. "His research on glaucoma benefited people around the globe. He had a 'soft' heart and was loved and respected by his patients and colleagues alike. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Nancy, and to the entire family. His life was cut short, a loss to humanity."

A native of Chicago, Dr. Camras devoted more than 20 years of his career to looking for a better drug to treat glaucoma. His quest began as an undergraduate student at Yale University and continued in medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgery. At Columbia, he studied under Laszlo Bito, Ph.D., a legendary researcher-novelist from Hungary who worked at Columbia from 1966 to 1998.

As a biochemistry major at Yale, Dr. Camras first conceived the idea that prostaglandins, a type of hormone found in virtually all tissues and organs, could lower the increased intraocular pressure that occurs with glaucoma. In 1996, using prostaglandins, Drs. Bito and Camras were the lead investigators in developing a new drug -- latanoprost -- for treatment of glaucoma.

Services for Dr. Camras

A memorial service for Dr. Camras will be held at 1 p.m., Sunday, at Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak-Cutler Funeral Chapel, 7805 W. Center Road.

In addition, a second memorial service for the UNMC community will be held at 4 p.m., Friday, in the Mary Ann "Maisie" Paustian Amphitheater, Room 3001 of the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Camras Memorial Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation. The Web site is being developed and gifts may be made online early next week at www.nufoundation.org.

The drug, sold under the trade name of Xalatan, was first marketed by Pharmacia. In short order, it became the most effective drug for the treatment of glaucoma. Since Xalatan was created, two additional glaucoma drugs using prostaglandins -- Travatan and Lumigan -- have reached the market place. With annual sales exceeding $2 billion, the three glaucoma drugs are by far the most lucrative ophthalmic pharmaceutical products in history.

Glaucoma is a disease caused by increased intraocular pressure (IOP) resulting either from a malformation or malfunction of the eye's drainage structures. Left untreated, an elevated IOP causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve and retinal fibers resulting in a progressive, permanent loss of vision. Early detection and treatment can slow or even halt progression of the disease.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness affecting more than 2 million people in the United States. It's estimated that another million people have glaucoma but have not been diagnosed.

"Carl Camras was a genius and one of the leading glaucoma specialists in the world," said Tom Hejkal, M.D., professor of ophthalmology at UNMC. "I would have said the leading glaucoma specialist in the world, but I know Carl's modesty would have prompted him to refuse such high praise.

"Not only did Carl know all of the scientific literature in his field, but he knew most of the authors personally, where they went to school, their hobbies and the names of their spouses and children. Carl was also one of the kindest and most generous men I have had the privilege to know."

Dr. Camras' incredible research portfolio includes more than 280 published articles in scientific journals. His impact on glaucoma patients could possibly continue even after his death, as he has a patent on a glaucoma shunt, which could help patients in years to come. He has been an invited speaker at literally hundreds of national and international conferences.

After completing medical school, Dr. Camras did his internship and residency training at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine. He then completed a fellowship in glaucoma at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He remained on the faculty at Mount Sinai from 1983 to 1991, when he accepted the position at UNMC.

Being an inventor came naturally to Dr. Camras. His late father, Marvin Camras, owned some 550 patents. An engineer in Chicago, Marvin's research focused on preserving sound rather than sight. He invented magnetic recording, which was a forerunner to modern tape recording. The magnetic coatings he developed were used on VCR tapes and computer disks.

A recurring theme for all who knew Dr. Camras was the outstanding character of the man.

"One of Carl's greatest qualities was the way he treated all people with respect," Dr. Hejkal said. "He treated even young students just starting out in his laboratory as colleagues and showed them as much consideration and respect as he showed the chairman of an ophthalmology department or the dean of a medical school."

Survivors include: his mother, Isabelle Camras, Chicago; his brothers, Robert and Louis, both of Chicago, and Michael, San Francisco; a sister and brother-in-law, Ruth and Charlie Pikler, Chicago; his wife, Nancy; and two daughters, Lucinda and Melanie.

Continuing the family tradition of seeking new inventions, Lucinda, a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Duke University, has been working with her father on glaucoma drainage devices. Last May, father and daughter presented on the devices at a major glaucoma symposium hosted by UNMC.

The leading glaucoma experts in the world came to Omaha and made presentations at the symposium -- most out of respect for Dr. Camras and his outstanding contributions to the field.

What others are saying

"He was one of the chairmen I hired when I was dean of the College of Medicine, and I will always be proud of that. Carl was a wonderful person, an internationally famous ophthalmologist and a great leader. I value his friendship. He was as kind and generous a person as you will ever meet. He lived life to the fullest having conquered a potentially fatal disease (Hodgkin's disease) as a young man. He never allowed illness or not feeling the best to be a reason for not excelling." James Armitage, M.D., professor, internal medicine, section of oncology-hematology

"Dr. Camras endured a long battle with heart failure from restrictive pericarditis, which was a complication of the radiation therapy he received for treatment of Hodgkin's disease more than 25 years ago. Through his extensive review of the literature on this subject over the last two years, I believe he knew more about this condition than most of the experts in the field. I am confident that, given a little more time in good health, he would have discovered a cure." Tom Hejkal, M.D., professor and vice chairman of clinical care, ophthalmology and visual sciences

"Carl was an internationally recognized and respected glaucoma specialist. He elevated the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology to national prominence both clinically and through research. It was my good fortune to be associated with Carl throughout his UNMC career. He was a friend. His legacy of well trained ophthalmologists, his participation in the development of latanoprost (Xalatan) a treatment for glaucoma used worldwide as an initial treatment of choice, and his research contributions all added to the growing reputation of UNMC. Carl was a physician who cared deeply about his patients." Stanley M. Truhlsen, M.D., emeritus professor and chairman, ophthalmology and visual sciences, and longtime donor to UNMC who created the Truhlsen Eye Research Laboratories in the Durham Research Center

"Carl Camras is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary individuals I have known. Despite his lingering illness he continued to perform his leadership responsibilities, to care for his numerous patients and to place his needs behind those of others. Amongst an array of talents, Carl had a photographic memory, and he was always the first to ask after your family or to remember an alumnus or colleague. Carl lived life to the fullest. I will truly miss him and his friendship." John Gollan, M.D., Ph.D., dean, UNMC College of Medicine


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Josh Fleming
April 27, 2009 at 4:36 PM

When my daughter was born, my wife and I told by several doctors that she would never have any useful vision from her right eye. We were told that she would be legally blind. We weren't convinced. One doctor at Mayo Clinic gave us hope. We proceeded with amblyopia therapy for the first three years of her life until she developed glaucoma. We felt helpless, this would be quite an obstacle. Everyone insisted that we see Dr. Carl Camras. Luckily for our daughter, we did. Through two Ahmed shunt valve surgeries, consultation with UNMC's Dr. John Halgren on two cornea transplants and the 20 eye drops we give our daughter each day, her glaucoma has been kept at bay. Most importantly, Dr. Carl Camras gave our daughter the chance to keep working on her vision when all hope seemed lost. I am happy to report that our daughter now sees 25/20 out of the eye that many thought wasn't worth saving. Our daughter would never have achieved these results if Dr. Camras wasn't there to guide the way. Dr. Camras was simply the greatest health professional we have ever known. You will be missed.

Alan Ross, M.D.
April 19, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Carl and I were classmates in medical school. As such, I knew him before he became recognized as a genius and world-reknowned scholar. Before classes began, we had a get-to-know-you picnic in the park. A number of the guys played a game of touch football. A pass was thrown beyond the grass field; any reasonable person would have let it go. But the intended receiver did not. He dived for it and caught it. He bounced up and everyone could see the nasty abrasions on his arms and torso. He barely paid the blood any attention and returned to the game. I thought to myself, this guy is either crazy or he's the toughest sob I've ever met (or both). That was my introduction to Carl. He was always upbeat, lots of fun to play rugby with, and tough as nails. He was a true gentleman. I know that I speak for all of his classmates in saying that I have nothing but fond memories of him. Alan Ross, M.D.

Carmen A. Puliafito MD
April 17, 2009 at 12:28 AM

Carl Camras was one of the great innovators in the history of twentieth century ophthalmology. His co-discovery of ophthalmic prostaglandins revolutionized the therapy of glaucoma and touched the lives of millions of patients. I am deeply saddened by his passing. I last spoke to Carl a number of months ago when he invited me to deliver the Gifford lecture in Omaha this upcoming June. I will dedicate it to his memory. Carmen A Puliafito MD, Dean, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Raj Patil
April 16, 2009 at 9:22 PM

It’s a great loss to not only Ophthalmology community but to humanity. I have not seen anyone yet who is as generous, polite, honest and humble person like Carl. He never got tired praising others but when someone praised him he will always say that he was not praiseworthy. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to be associated with Carl. I was his first faculty recruitment after he became Chair of the Ophthalmology Department. Although I was in Carl’s Department just for 3 years before I moved to Alcon but I felt that I knew him for 30 years. I used to call him workaholic. He was the first one to come to the Dept and last one to turn the lights off. I wonder whether he knew that his life will be cut short and he has to work long hours to help his colleagues, friends, patients and everyone he came across. He was a rare gem and he will leave forever in our memories.

Howard Gendelman
April 16, 2009 at 8:59 PM

I had the honor of knowing this special man. He was always positive and spoke the best in people. His work ethic, knowledge base, and humanity were of legends. He was a mentors mentor and always raised the bar as a chairman, a physician, and scientist. He always brought out the best in people and that is perhaps what I will remember most of him. Everyone was good to Carl and everyone deserving of praise. Rest in peace my friend and thank you for sharing life's journey with us.

Bartly Mondino, M.D., chairman of the UCLA Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology
April 16, 2009 at 3:18 PM

Dr. Camras was an outstanding clinician, researcher and educator. His original research with Dr. Laszlo Bito on the intraocular pressure-lowering effect of prostaglandins opened up an entirely new therapeutic approach to glaucoma. His research achievements were recognized by a Senior Scientific Investigator Award from Research to Prevent Blindness. He was an extremely talented glaucoma surgeon and provided compassionate and exemplary patient care. Dr. Camras was respected by all, not just for his academic qualities, but also for his personal attributes of honesty and integrity. He was always kind, unselfish and generous. I never knew him to be harsh or abrasive to anyone. He will be greatly missed not only by his family, friends and department, but also by ophthalmology. He was a true “gentleman and scholar.”

Salvatore Stella
April 16, 2009 at 1:47 PM

It saddens me greatly to hear the news about the passing of Carl Camaras. I knew Carl when I was a graduate student working with Wally Thoreson in the Department of Ophthalmology. He was an extremely kind, easy going, and thoughtful man. He was full of energy, and had an open mind, which is very rare among physicans. Although, I was not one of his patients officially, he would look at my eyes in the hallway of the eye clinic to check my dry eye issues. Like me, I imagined that his patients adored him, his big smile and warm and thoughtful heart made a big differenece in the lives that he touched. I remember the early morning journal clubs that I reluctantly attended, because of the time, usually between 6:30-7:00 am, grumpy and annoyed I would arrive only to find a smiling happy wide awake Carl Camaras greeting me. Since I lived close to campus I was early and we would chat, until the others arrived. His positive nature and persona would convert me rapidly from a grumpy stubborn student to a happy engaged scientist, ready to start the journal club. However, I unsuccessfully lobbied to move the time of the journal club, but of course, I was outnumbered, and only a lowly graduate student. After I graduated from UNMC, I would see Carl at ARVO and he would always encourage me to think about coming back to Omaha and the department of Ophthalmology. I would have loved the opportunity, especially with him as the Chair. He was always so positive, which was one of his fine qualities. Carl will be missed he was an incredible man who left an indelible mark on the lives and people he touched. Words cannot describe the loss that we all feel. My thoughts, warmest wishes and prayers go to his his wife, Nancy, and two daughters, Lucinda and Melanie during this difficult time.

Deepta Ghate
April 16, 2009 at 12:40 PM

Carl was the most meticulous person I know, he aimed for perfection in his scientific writing, in the way his patient charts were maintained and above all in the way his patients were treated. Every clinical decision had a scientific rationale which he was always willing to explain. He was always the first person to arrive at work in the department and the last to leave. But above and beyond his intellect and dedication, he was a wonderful thoughtful and compassionate human being. He was generous with his time and his knowledge. When you did well, he was so obviously proud of you, it felt good. When I am with a patient, or when I am writing a paper or an abstract, I always think of what Carl would do and it has never let me down. Thank you for being the best teacher I have ever had.

Guilin Zhan
April 16, 2009 at 11:47 AM

No word can express my sorrow of Dr. Camras’ pass away. It is great loss of my personal, my family, and our department. Having working with Carl for 20 years, every thing he had done for me and my family is still vivid in my memory. I was transfer from Dr. Bito’s lab in Columbia University to work with Carl in Mt Sinai School of Medicine in 1989 and followed him to UNMC since. He was a genius and one of the leading glaucoma specialists in the world and also one of the kindest and most generous men I have had met. He treated every one with respect. He has the highest ethical value, caring and always thinking of others. He cares not only my professional career but also my personal life and my family. We own all achievements we have today to Carl’s support and his leadership. Thank you, Carl, for being my mentor, colleague, and friend. You will forever be missed and remembered.

Eyal Margalit
April 16, 2009 at 10:06 AM

Carl brought me to UNMC in 2003. I very quickly learned this was one of the best decisions of my life, all becuase of Carl. He was a great man, a great chairman, and a great leader. He supported the department's clinical and research efforts with no consideration for his own needs. I love you, and I will miss you very very much.

Larry Walker, Information Technology
April 16, 2009 at 9:17 AM

I remember being paged one Saturday morning with an I.T. related trouble call. Dr. Camras' modem had stopped working and he needed it to connect back to the Med Center network. I offered to go to his home to assist - which I did. We got the modem working and he thanked me and I went on my way. The very next Monday, Dr. Camras showed up at my home to personally give me a huge batch of cookies - in appreciation for my efforts. He didn't have to do that, I was only doing my job. After that he'd learned that my mother was a patient at his clinic. She immediately became "his" patient and Dr. Camras personally did her cataract surgery. Dr. Camras' kind-heartedness will be missed.

Bud Shaw
April 16, 2009 at 8:21 AM

Carl was a gentle, compassionate man whose friendship and loyalty seemed unconditional. He surprised me when he came out to ride his bike with us in support of the annual Tour de Cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma even though I don't think he really had the energy to pedal a bike, let alone put in more than a dozen miles. We'll miss Carl. My personal condolences to Nancy and their daughters.

Tom O'Connor
April 16, 2009 at 8:06 AM

Sometimes life doesn't make sense. It just doesn't seem fair that we could lose someone like Carl who was doing so much to help people deal with serious vision problems. He had so much to give and was such a great guy. My favorite Carl Camras memory occurred when we opened the Student Life Center. We held a special event in which some of the deans and other key administrators participated in a basketball shootout. Carl represented the UNMC Eye Clinic. Who would ever know that this brilliant scientist-physician was also a hoops junkie? His jump shot was pure. You da' man, Carl!

Donna Neely
April 15, 2009 at 5:24 PM

Carl always looked at life as a challenge, a puzzle that needed to be answered, and in his optimism, we really shouldn't be sad but celebrate that in our lifetime, we have been blessed with one very remarkable yet humble man who has touched millions of lives. We both agreed -- one's death should never be viewed as sad and solemn, but a time of celebration. Carl will be forever immortalized in the annals of ophthalmology, but more importantly, his passion and dedication will live on in the people he has touched. He would want us to continue his mission to build this clinic and research facility into one of the best. We owe it to him. But for now, like many others, I shall weep in silence.

Kathy Austin
April 15, 2009 at 5:23 PM

Dr. Camras is the greatest human being that I have ever known. He is the most ethical person with the highest values, incredibly brilliant, a wonderful physician and researcher, yet very humble, compassionate, caring and always thinking of others. He remembered birthdays and special events of all those around him. He knew our families, our life's stories, joys and sorrows and remembered them. He never failed to say thank you and express his appreciation for anything that was done for him.

Bruce Shields, M.D., professor and chairman emeritus of ophthalmology & visual science department, Yale University
April 15, 2009 at 5:21 PM

Tears are flowing down my cheeks, as I attempt to express my profound admiration and affection for you. I remember a time at an academy meeting - I think it was in New Orleans - when I had just arrived and was walking from a meeting to my hotel, and you not only walked the entire way with me - it was quite a few blocks - but insisted on carrying my bag. That moment has always stuck in my mind as an example of what a wonderful and considerate friend you have always been to so many people. Old friend, I honestly believe that we will all be together again one day. And until that day, I will never hesitate to tell whoever I meet about one of the finest men I ever knew.

Josh Zastrocky, M.D.
April 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Not a day goes by in clinic or in the OR that I don't recall some pearl I learned from you … clinical pearls but also pearls in dealing with patients and colleagues in a compassionate and professional manner. I learned that the patients don't exist for me but rather I exist as a physician for the patient's benefit. I knew I was part of a good thing during residency but only now that I'm out in the 'real world' do I realize just how fortunate I was to learn from you. You can never know how much of an influence you have had on my life.

Wallace Thoreson
April 15, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Carl's memory of glaucoma-related publications seemed at least as comprehensive as and better catalogued than PubMed. He could recall the authors, study, and specific findings of impressive numbers of publications conducted over decades. Right up to the end, he was much more concerned about how others were doing than he was about himself and his own health.

Lisa Runco
April 15, 2009 at 4:26 PM

I've never seen a person who can get so much done in such as short time as Carl. What an incredible guy he is.amazing and inspirational to so many people.and the true definition of a genius, but one of the nicest, most humble souls to inhabit the planet. I can remember standing in the eye clinic hallways doing time studies on how long it took us to move patients in and out of exam rooms. Whenever a patient was waiting for Carl, I always knew where to look for him -- in his office cranking out as much as he could on a research paper in the span of two to five minutes between patients. He just could not waste one moment of any day. Carl loved his family, his work and his colleagues. He is truly beloved and an icon.

Carol Toris
April 15, 2009 at 4:25 PM

You have mentored me for a good 15 years now. I will do my best to live up to your expectations and standards. Thank you for leading and growing the department over the past nine years. We look forward to seeing that eye institute built and the department grow even more. Thank you for your many small gestures such as the parties that united the department and the lunches to celebrate birthdays..and thanks for being my chairman, mentor, colleague and friend. You are irreplaceable.