For more than 30 years, Michael Dean, Ph.D., has been an integral part of the NCI at Frederick community. In addition to studying several different aspects of genomics and cancer research, he has worked with the Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program and also volunteered his time with Mission of Mercy, a community-based organization providing free healthcare and free prescription medications to the uninsured and under-insured.
Dean first came to NCI at Frederick in 1983 as a postdoc with George Vande Woude, and he has spent the last three decades researching human genetics and genomics. The majority of his work focused on characterizing the MET oncogene, helping to characterize the VHL gene, cloning the PTCH gene, and investigating tumor suppression. Dean also worked on cloning the gene associated with cystic fibrosis as well as identifying genes associated with HIV resistance and AIDS progression.
Now, as the chief of the Lab of Translational Genomics, DCEG, NCI, Dean mentors and manages other investigators and coordinates efforts with the rest of the DCEG. He also works on studies in countries such as Guatemala, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Mexico, and he has been studying pediatric, cervical, and breast cancer in Latin America.
“Cervical cancer is the most common cause of death by cancer for women in many of these countries,” said Dean. “Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. Although the disease is preventable by Pap smear screening and HPV vaccination, these are usually not available, especially in the poorest areas of these countries. We found that cervical cancer is very similar in Latin America as in the U.S. and Europe in the role of HPV and specific gene mutations. We are continuing this work to further understand the diversity of HPV in the tumors and also to try to understand why some women respond well to radiation and chemotherapy and others do not. We also tested an inexpensive HPV test that would be used.”
Dean’s favorite part of NCI at Frederick is having the privilege to work on a topic of his choosing, as well as working with individuals who are equally enthusiastic about their research. He relishes the opportunity to help others with their science, and he is currently helping several tenure-track investigators during that phase of their careers.
Volunteering Outside of the Lab
Dean is also involved in the Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program, which is designed to give high schoolers a chance to experience research and administrative management in a health care environment. Dean got to know the program’s namesake when Kirsten worked at NCI at Frederick, and he has mentored many students through the program.
One of his former students even returns to his lab now that she is in college. Of the program, Dean said that “the chance to expose an 11th grader interested in science to a real world lab experience is very valuable.” He advises students interested in pursuing science to seek out experts in their preferred field and to learn from them. “Almost all scientists love to talk about what they do and share their knowledge.”
In addition to participating in the Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program, Dean also founded the Elementary Outreach Program with Dr. Kirsten, which brings hands-on science into elementary schools.
Outside of NCI at Frederick, Dean volunteers his time to Mission of Mercy as a Spanish translator. About half of the clinic’s patients are Spanish-speaking. When Dean first learned of Mission of Mercy through the local community, he went on a tour and started working right away. He helps the patients through registration and translates when the nurse takes their vital signs and history as well as when they receive medication. Mission of Mercy is a mobile clinic held two Mondays each month in the Church of the Brethren, and Dean also assists with set up and tear down.
“It is a truly amazing place, and I recommend anyone take the tour and see how it works,” said Dean. “Many of the clients are long-term Frederick residents with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes who need basic checkups and prescriptions for basic, generic medicines. [Mission of Mercy] works closely with Frederick Memorial Hospital to help prevent serious problems and keep people out of the emergency room. They also run a dental clinic.”
In addition to volunteering, Dean enjoys walking in the woods near his home just about every day with his beagle, Newton. He also has two granddaughters he enjoys seeing. When he has the time, he likes playing the guitar, skiing, and traveling, and he enjoys taking in the culture, arts, music, and food of new places.