NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Rutgers researcher whose work to create the first COVID-19 saliva-based test produced a game-changing weapon in the battle against the coronavirus, has died. Andrew Brooks, 51, passed away unexpectedly Saturday, according to the university.

Brooks, who grew up in Hazlet, recently had undergone surgery on his neck. The longtime research professor in Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences leaves a powerful legacy – more than 4 million rapid response tests, which were the first approved for home use, have been performed since March.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recognized Brooks and his contribution to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey and around the country, calling him “one of our state’s unsung heroes,’’ in his coronavirus press briefing on Monday. Murphy said the Rutgers COVID-19 test has “undoubtedly saved lives” as he praised the legacy Brooks leaves behind.

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“We cannot thank Andy enough for all he did across his career,’’ Murphy said. “He will be sorely missed by many.’’

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom, in a joint statement, said, “We at Rutgers offer our heartfelt condolences to his family, including his three children, and with them we take pride in his achievements that will have lasting impact.”

Jay Tischfield, founder and CEO of RUCDR, distinguished professor of genetics at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, and executive director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey, said, “Andy and I were close. We often commented that I was old enough to be his father, and I often thought of him as a son. He will be fondly remembered by the large cohort of scientists whose research he facilitated across many years.”

Brooks was an academic member of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey, a research faculty member in Rutgers’ Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute and a member of its NIHS Center of Excellence, and a member of the graduate faculty in Rutgers Joint Graduate Program in Toxicology.

His career was distinguished by outstanding scholarship, service in the field of biomedicine and business activities designed to improve human health. As chief operating officer and director of technology development at RUCDR Infinite Biologics, he led the effort to develop the COVID-19 saliva test. The test received FDA emergency use authorization as the first approved saliva diagnostic and a month later as the first of any test approved for home use.

Brooks received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Rochester and later became its director of Medical Center Core Facilities. Four years later, he returned to New Jersey to direct the joint Rutgers/UMDNJ EOHSI Bionomics Research and Technology Center. In 2009, he became chief operating officer and director of technology development of RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which, through an asset purchase agreement, was spun out from Rutgers to create Infinity BiologiX, of which Brooks became chief executive officer.

He co-authored more than 70 publications and played a key role in providing consultation, biobanking and analytical services to many large research projects that have yielded insights into the genomic etiology of human diseases and the effects of environmental exposures. He also served 17 years as an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration as director of the Harlan (now Envigo) GeneScreen Laboratory and as co-founding director of the BioProcessing Solutions Alliance.

In his free time, Brooks was an accomplished amateur golfer, often known to play with his father.