Alginate is a biodegradable, immunocompatible biopolymer that is capable of immobilizing viable cells and bioactive factors. Few investigations have analyzed the efficacy of alginate gels as substrata for cell attachment and proliferation. Here we have compared the adhesion and subsequent growth of human and rat bone marrow stromal fibroblastic cells on unmodified alginate hydrogel surfaces. It was found that, in contrast to rat cells, human cells did not readily attach or proliferate on unmodified alginates. In attempts to enhance these features, or collagen type I was incorporated into the gels, with no significant improvements in prolonged human cell adherence. However, alginate gels containing both collagen type I and beta-tricalcium phosphate were found to enhance human cell adherence and proliferation. Furthermore, interactions between the collagen and beta-tricalcium phosphate prevented loss of the protein from the hydrogels. These results indicate that alginate gels containing collagen have potential uses as vehicles for delivery of adherent cells to a tissue site. In addition, gels containing beta-tricalcium phosphate, with or without collagen type I incorporation, have potential to support cell growth and differentiation in vitro before implantation. This study emphasizes the limitations of the uses of cells derived from experimental animals in certain model studies relating to human tissue engineering.