Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Liz Patton Research Group receives award to track melanoma

The award, from Melanoma Research Alliance, will support a recent technology called "barcoding" which aims to help advance therapies in melanoma patients: July 2022

Liz Patton Portrait Photo

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer often treated using targeted and immune-based therapies. Target-based therapies use medication to target the genes and proteins that help cancer cells survive and grow. Immune-based therapies aim to help patients' own immune systems to recognise and attack cancer cells. Despite important progress in targeted and immune-based therapies for melanoma, many patients will not respond to therapy or will develop drug resistance to existing therapies.

The recent Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) award will help the Liz Patton Research Group lead a team to identify the most lethal cancer cells across melanoma subtypes, including:

  • Drug resistant BRAF-mutant melanomas
  • BRAF wildtype
  • Mucosal and acral melanomas

The research group will use a 2018 breakthrough technology called “barcoding." They will use it to improve melanoma tracking in both animal models and in patients, leading to new therapies for melanoma patients.

The team, including labs from Harvard, MIT and Oxford, have successfully applied barcoding before. They used the technology on blood cancers, in patient samples and in animal models, to improve cancer treatment. Recent advances now make this research possible in melanoma for the first time.

Melanomas can arise from distinct subsets of melanocytes - cells that produce and contain melanin, which define hair, skin and eye colour. The location of these cells can determine the type of melanoma that develops and its sensitivity to drug treatments. As cancer grows over time, some cells will change. When therapies are introduced, the cells that aren’t killed can persist and contribute to the recurrence of drug-resistant melanoma. 

I am so honoured to be a part of this amazing Team and grateful to the MRA-Rosetree Trust for supporting Women in Science.

Professor Liz PattonProfessor Liz Patton, Head of Disease Models Section, MRC Human Genetics Unit

Liz Patton and her team will develop cellular barcoding technology for human and zebrafish models of melanoma. They will use this to identify the cell of origin and resistant clones. The team will be the first-ever to apply cellular barcoding to melanoma. An exciting result of their work could be to therapeutically target the most lethal melanoma cells to improve treatment outcomes. 


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Liz Patton Research Group

Liz Patton and her team on balcony overlooking Edinburgh