Underweight babies and sufferers of Parkinson's disease are set to benefit from a $2 million gift from a charity run by the daughter of the late philanthropist Hugh Green.

The Hugo Charitable Trust is giving $1m to the Liggins Institute for research into reducing premature birth.

Led by associate professor Katie Groom, the researchers are also studying therapies to promote growth in the womb, including the use of sildenafil citrate - brand name Viagra - to boost blood flow to the placenta.

A further $1m will go to the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, where Dr Daniel McCormick is studying optogenetics - controlling neurons using light.


McCormick's team is researching the use of wireless implantable LED devices to measure individual cells' response to light. The new technology could help treat conditions like Parkinson's.

Both institutes are based at the University of Auckland and vice-chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon was delighted with the grants.

The university's "world class" research was dependent on the support of donors and philanthropists, he said.

"The significant impact we are already making in areas that can affect the whole world are only possible through philanthropic support of individuals and organisations that have that same commitment."

The donations are in line with the many millions Green gave away over his lifetime.

Born in Ireland to a poor family, he left school aged 12, and started working at a cattleyard before moving to New Zealand and building his wealth through interests as diverse as construction, oil exploration and farming.

But despite his fortune - estimated at $400m on the 2013 NBR Rich List - Green never forgot his roots.

When he died in 2012, aged 80, he had donated a big chunk of his fortune to help people less fortunate, as well as to a variety of medical causes.

His eldest daughter Maryanne Green set up the Hugo Charitable Trust in May last year to build on her father's legacy, with a broad remit including alleviating poverty, advancing education and funding medical research.

The new trust was formed following a bitter public stoush between Maryanne and her siblings, who went to the High Court to vie for control of their late father's estimated $400m fortune.

Green decided late in life to hand over the reins of his empire to eldest son John Green, their sister Frances Green and lawyer Mark Fisher.

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Maryanne successfully argued that Green was vulnerable and under John's influence when he wrote his new will shortly before death. In 2015 then-Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann ruled Green's will was invalid.

In 2017 the family reached a binding settlement over Green's estate. Maryanne retired from both the Hugh Green Trust and the Hugh Green Property Trust, and she and her descendants received about 14 per cent of the trusts' assets. Another 10 per cent went to the Hugo Charitable Trust which Maryanne founded last year.

Maryanne Green set up the Hugo Charitable Trust in 2017 to continue her father Sir Hugh Green's philanthropic legacy. File photo / Doug Sherring
Maryanne Green set up the Hugo Charitable Trust in 2017 to continue her father Sir Hugh Green's philanthropic legacy. File photo / Doug Sherring

Green loved Ireland and New Zealand equally and believed education was the key to a better New Zealand, Maryanne said.

"The Hugo Charitable Trust is committed to honouring Hugh's life work and building on his legacy for the future benefit of New Zealand with new ideas, new ways and new directions for the future."

Maryanne's siblings also continue to run the Hugh Green Charitable Trust in the tradition of their father, supporting medical causes including Diabetes New Zealand and the University of Auckland's Centre for Brain Research.