Elizabeth Patton


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Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh, UK. Dr Patton received a BSc Honours degree from King’s College at Dalhousie University, and 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 Professor Len Zon at Harvard Medical School, where she developed a zebrafish model for melanoma. Her lab uses chemical genetic approaches in zebrafish to investigate gene-drug interactions in melanocyte development, as well as in melanoma biology. Dr Patton is a Handling Editor at Disease Models and Mechanisms (Company of Biologists, Cambridge UK), and serves as an editorial board member for Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research (Wiley). Dr Patton was the founding President of the Zebrafish Disease Models Society (2013-2015) and currently serves as a Board member, and is an elected member of the Young Academy of Scotland at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the European Society of Pigment Cell Research. Dr. Patton’s research is funded by the Medical Research Council, the European Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and a L’Oréal Paris USA–MRA Team Science Award for Women in Scientific Research.

My 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.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Science, University of Toronto

Award Date: 1 Jan 2001

Bachelor of Science, Dalhousie University, Canada

Award Date: 1 Jan 1995


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