Dean majored in physics, and was drawn to its applications in structural biology during internships in Berlin, Munich, and Tokyo. In graduate school, he studied peptide:protein recognition that is the foundation of the immune response to viral infections with Don Wiley. As a post-doctoral fellow with Ken Holmes and Bert Sakmann and then as an independent PI at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, he began to explore the stereochemical basis of ion-channel ligand gating. After moving to Dartmouth in 2002, he extended his focus to include protein-protein interactions that regulate the trafficking, localization, and activity of ion channels, including the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. His research is funded by NIDDK, NIAID, and the CF Foundation. In 2016, he became the founding director of the NIGMS-funded Dartmouth COBRE Institute of Biomolecular Targeting (iTarget), which supports junior-faculty research projects and scientific core facilities in biochemistry and cell biology.
In parallel to his research, Dean has a long-standing interest in education. He tutored in college and started teaching math at a summer 'bootcamp' for MPP students at the Kennedy School of Government. Since 1986, he has taught math, biochemistry, and biophysics in Munich, Heidelberg, Cambridge, and Hanover. He served as Chair of the MCB Graduate Program from 2007-2009, participated in the development of Dartmouth's newly established School for Graduate and Advanced Studies, and co-chaired the Biomedical Sciences Working Group for Geisel's MD curriculum reform initiative. Dean is currently course director for BIOC101 - the MCB first-term core course - and lectures and leads small-group discussions in BIOC110 - the Geisel first-term Biochemistry course.