Scientists believe giving pregnant women the hormone progesterone may reduce the risk of a premature birth.
Prematurity carries many health risks
A team at Glasgow University are to test whether the hormone can prevent women going into labour too early.
Around 50,000 babies are born too soon every year in the UK, and can suffer life-long difficulties such as blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
The reasons are largley unknown, but there is some evidence to suggest progesterone can reduce the risk.
Progesterone is a female hormone made in the ovaries and produced by the placenta in large quantities during pregnancy.
Lead researcher Professor Jane Norman said: "We're going to be studying mothers at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the increase in knowledge that this will give us could help in developing new treatments that will save lives.
"In normal labour, white blood cells are activated in the bloodstream and migrate to the womb during the birthing process.
"Sometimes this can happen too soon and we believe that these cells might play a key role in triggering pre-term labour.
"If this is the case then progesterone could stop this from happening by blocking the activation of white blood cells."
Action Medical Research is running a project called the Touching Tiny Lives Campaign which is designed to find ways to prevent premature birth.
It is hoped to raise £3 million to fund research into this area.
Andrew Proctor, a spokesman for the charity, said: "The more routes we find to preventing prematurity then the greater the chance of saving lives and preventing lifelong illness.
"With one in every 14 babies being born too soon and more than 3,000 UK families devastated by the death of a baby every year this is an area of research that needs urgent attention.
"Doctors tell us that they are close to cures for prematurity but their only barrier is funding."
A spokeswoman for the premature baby charity Bliss said research into ways to minimise the risk was essential to relieve pressure on neonatal services.
"With more and more babies being born prematurely or sick every year in the United Kingdom, the neonatal service is over-stretched and struggling to cope with the incredible demand being placed on it.