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Disease Mechanisms

Programme Leader

Elizabeth Patton

Contact Details

E-mail address:
Telephone: +44 (0)131 651 8536
Fax: +44 (0)131 651 8800
Address: MRC Human Genetics Unit MRC IGMM, University of Edinburgh Western General Hospital, Crewe Road, Edinburgh EH4 2XU
Research Programme: Melanocyte Development and Melanoma



Dr Patton received a BSc (Honours) degree from King’s College at Dalhousie University, and worked with Professor Gerry Johnston to study the initiation of the budding yeast cell cycle. She then received a PhD from the University of Toronto, working with Mike Tyers to discover how E3 ubiquitin ligases control cell division. Following this, Liz received a Human Frontier Science Programme Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Len Zon at Harvard Medical School, where she developed a zebrafish model for melanoma. She continued her training with a MRC Career Development Award at The University of Oxford and the MRC Human Genetics Unit, and is currently a Group Leader at the MRC Institute for Genetics and Molecular Medicine in Edinburgh, in addition to manager of the MRC IGMM zebrafish service facility. Dr. Patton has recently been elected to the Young Academy of Scotland at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and to the Council of the European Society of Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research. She serves on the Editorial Board for Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research (Wiley) and is a Monitoring Editor for Disease Models and Mechanisms (The Company of Biologists).


Academic Qualifications

  • Bachelor
    • 1995, Bachelor of Science, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • Doctorate
    • 2001, Doctor of Science, PhD, University of Toronto


Research in a Nutshell

Melanocyte Development and Melanoma

Melanoma accounts for 80% of the deaths from skin cancer, and incidence continues to rise rapidly. Aggressive and resistant to chemotherapies, individuals with metastatic melanoma often have a life expectancy of less than one year. Our research is focused on understanding how melanocytes – the pigment cells that become melanoma – develop, divide, migrate and maintain homeostatis within their microenvironment, as well as the genetic and cellular events that cause melancoytes to form moles and their progression to invasive cancer. To do this, we use the zebrafish system, which allows both the visualization of developing and migrating melanocytes, as well as their aberrant progression to melanoma.


The zebrafish is a powerful model system to study developmental biology, chemical biology and disease models. Due to the similar genetic, molecular and cancer pathology between humans and fish, our melanoma progression model can be viewed as an important starting point for identifying novel genes, environmental conditions, and therapeutic compounds that affect melanoma progression.


Our lab uses the zebrafish system to understand the development of melanocytes, with a view to how these processes are altered in melanoma. We use genetics and chemical-biology to discover the fundamental processes that contribute to melanocyte development during embryogenesis, and explore how these processes contribute to melanoma development. We have two zebrafish facilities at the IGMM, and access to a wide range of transgenic and genetic lines, diverse chemical libraries, and state-of-the-art imaging facilities.