Dr. Andrew Bellemer receives NIH grant to connect students to cutting-edge brain mapping data

BOONE, N.C. — Dr. Andrew Bellemer, associate professor of molecular neuroscience and assistant chair of faculty administration in Appalachian State University's Department of Biology, is the co-recipient of a collaborative center grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Bellemer is participating as a principal investigator in the High-throughput Integrative Electron Microscopy (HIVE) Center, a $33 million project funded as part of the NIH’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative’s CONNECTS program. BRAIN CONNECTS aims to revolutionize our understanding of connections between neurons in our brains, through developing novel technologies to map brains at unprecedented scales and levels of detail. HIVE is a national collaborative center led by the Allen Institute, a non-profit research center located in Seattle, Washington, and includes partners at Princeton University, Argonne National Laboratory, Zetta AI, Cal State East Bay and Mount Holyoke, along with Dr. Bellemer at App State. 

"Connectomics is the rapidly growing subfield of neuroscience that is aimed at comprehensively analyzing the connections within a nervous system. This project is spearheaded by a group of researchers at the Allen Institute and is aimed at fully reconstructing the synaptic connections between neurons in a portion of the mouse brain called the basal ganglia. This is a brain area that regulates voluntary movement and one of the brain regions impacted in Parkinson’s Disease," explained Bellemer.

The HIVE grant will fund advances in microscopy, image processing and artificial intelligence that aim to ultimately map the connections between all the neurons in a mammalian brain. An essential part of the project is also to make sure the resulting data set is accessible and useful to the broader society. Therefore, the project includes efforts to develop educational programs to train the next generation of scientists to utilize these data.

For the project, Bellemer will develop educational materials that will allow students at App State and elsewhere to access this cutting-edge data and use it as part of their undergraduate education. "We are increasingly aware of how important it is for students to be exposed to authentic research as part of their education, so we are very excited about the educational opportunities that this work provides," he added. Bellemer teamed up with Dr. Divya Sitaraman (CSU East Bay) and Dr. Kenneth Colodner (Mount Holyoke) to develop this flexible modular curriculum including a series of workshops to train college professors to make the most of the curriculum in the classroom. 

To learn more about the "BRAIN CONNECTS" project, see alleninstitute.org/news/projects-launch-to-map-brain-connections-in-mouse-and-macaque.

About Dr. Andrew Bellemer

Bellemer earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Massachusetts, where he first became interested in molecular neuroscience. He went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees in neuroscience from Yale University. Following the completion of his doctorate, Bellemer conducted postdoctoral research at Duke University before joining App State's Department of Biology as an associate professor in 2014.

Committed to training the next generation of neuroscientists, Bellemer leads Connectomes for Undergraduate Neuroscience Education and Learning (CUNEL), a five-year project aiming to enhance the accessibility of neuroscience education and incorporate cutting-edge data and research tools into undergraduate neuroscience courses to enhance student learning. The project, which began in 2022 and will conclude in 2027, is supported by nearly half a million dollars from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Additionally, Bellemer serves as the principal investigator of the ADVANCE APPALACHIAN project, which is funded by a nearly $1 million NSF grant through August 2024. The project aims to recruit, retain and promote more women faculty and faculty from underrepresented populations in STEM disciplines at App State.

In 2022, Bellemer received the North Carolina Board of Governors Appalachian State University School/College Award recognizing excellence in teaching.


About the Department of Biology
The Department of Biology is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations — from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery. Learn more at https://biology.appstate.edu.

Written by Lauren Gibbs
Edited by Dr. Andrew Bellemer, Dr. Forrest Collman and Dr. Melissa Lerch

April 1, 2024

Dr. Andrew Bellemer, associate professor of molecular neuroscience and assistant chair of faculty administration in Appalachian State University's Department of Biology
Published: Apr 3, 2024 1:22pm