updated 4/9/2004 1:28:50 PM ET 2004-04-09T17:28:50

A jury cleared a cancer center Thursday of allegations that it failed to inform patients of the risks of an experimental bone-marrow treatment two decades ago.

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The families of five patients who died in the experiment sued the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, alleging that the patients would never have agreed to it had they known the true risks.

The center contended that the doctors were doing the best they could based on what they knew about the treatment at the time.

Hutchinson attorney Bill Leedom said the center “feels a lot of sympathy for these families. We wish we could have saved the lives of these individuals, but we couldn’t do it.”

Defendants in the case included Nobel laureate Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who in 1969 developed a way to transplant bone marrow in a leukemia patient. Thomas and his team founded the Hutchinson Center in 1975, and it quickly became known as the largest and most successful bone-marrow transplant center in the world. By the early 1980s, the center had done more than 1,000 transplants.

The jury did award more than $1 million to one of the families, that of David Yingling, after finding that the center negligently caused his 1983 death by damaging bone marrow donated by his brother.

The jury deliberated for about six days following the eight-week trial.

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