A Europe-wide trial involving premature babies is investigating whether the risk of chronic lung disease can be halved if they are given nitric oxide gas to breathe shortly after birth.
Medics from the University of Leicester, King's College London and Medway hospitals are involved in the trial. Results of a similar US based study have recently been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Britain has the highest rate of premature babies in Europe - this particular treatment would help very premature babies. Up to 40% of the 4,000 babies born under 28 weeks could benefit.
Chronic lung disease occurs when babies are born before their lungs have full developed, or there is too much stress on the lungs from ventilators. It is a cause of long-term lung complications and brain damage in very low birthweight babies.
David Field, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Leicester, who is part of the study team, said: "Leicester is involved as this has been a research interest of ours for some time.
"This research is potentially very important - but we've a long way to go before we understand the best way to use nitric oxide and the babies that could be most helped.
"The intervention is very costly and this is only the second study to show a positive effect in premature babies - half a dozen other studies have had either no effect or a negative effect.
"It also appears that it does not help the sickest, most immature babies. So the current study in Europe, which we are involved with, is testing the same hypothesis as the US study but in a European population as there are many things that differ in relation to premature baby care between the US and Europe.
Early results will take another 2 years.