MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit

Liz Patton Research Group

Targeting the Melanocyte Lineage in Development and Melanoma

Liz Patton portrait
Professor Liz Patton - Personal Chair of Chemical Genetics

Section: Disease Mechanisms

Research in a Nutshell 

Melanoma (cancer of the melanocyte) kills over 20,000 Europeans each year and incidence continues to rise rapidly. BRAFV600E inhibitors and immune therapy have led to clinically significant improvements in outcomes for melanoma patients, yet many patients with metastatic melanoma rapidly succumb to the disease due to eventual chemoresistance, or insensitivity to the drug. Thus, it is critical to identify new therapies that can act alone, or be combined with available treatments for enhanced efficacy and/or to overcome drug resistance.

Our research is focused on understanding how melanocytes – the pigment cells that become melanoma – develop, divide, migrate and maintain homeostasis within their microenvironment, as well as the genetic and cellular events that cause melanocytes 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. 

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. Our lab at the MRC Human Genetics Unit has close collaborations with the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, and ultimately we aim to translate our discoveries in zebrafish to the understanding and treatment of human disease. 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.

Liz Patton group


Professor E. Elizabeth Patton Group Leader
Alessandro Brombin Research Fellow
Hannah Brunsdon Research Fellow
Jana Travnickova Research Fellow
Zhiqiang Zeng Research Fellow
Kelly Blacklock Research Fellow
Yuting Lu PhD student
Zahra Massoud PhD student



  • Professor Ian Jackson, MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Veronica Kinsler, University College London
  • Professor Mike Tyers, University of Montreal
  • Dr Chris Dooley, Dr Elisabeth Busch, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • Professor David Parichy, University of Washington
  • Dr James Lister, Virgina Commonwealth University
  • IGC Translation Team: Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, Professor Val Brunton, Professor Charles Gourley, Professor Neil Carragher, Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, University of Edinburgh
  • L’Oreal and Melanoma Research Alliance Team: Professor Marisol Soengas (CNIO, Spain), Dr Maria Sosa (MSSM, New York), Professor Ashani Weeraratna (Wistar Institute, Pennsylvania), Professor Lynn Schuchter (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Dr Martin Wear and Dr Matt Nowicki, The Centre for Translational and Chemical Biology, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Alex von Kriegsham, Mass Spectrometry Facility, Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, University of Edinburgh

Partners and Funders

  • Medical Research Council
  • European Research Council Consolidator Award
  • L’Oreal and Melanoma Research Alliance
  • Wellcome Trust collaboration, CRUK studentship and IGMM Technology studentship


Scientific Themes

Melanoma, Melanocyte, Zebrafish, Disease models, Chemical genetics

Technology Expertise

Chemical biology, Drug target ID, CRISPR mutations