Cell carrier is a useful biomedical tool to deliver particular kind of cells to a specific site for cell therapy or tissue regeneration. In the current study, 45S5 bioglass (BG) was introduced into alginate (ALG) to generate BG/ALG composite hydrogel beads as cell carriers. The ions releasing behavior, dimensional stability and in vitro bioactivity of the beads were investigated. Results showed that the BG/ALG beads revealed similar calcium ion releasing behavior as compared with ALG beads. In addition, silicon ion releasing was detected in BG/ALG beads. BG/ALG and ALG beads shared similar dimensional stability, and BG/ALG beads could induce apatite deposition on their surface after being soaked in stimulated body fluid. Then, the effects of ion extracts from hydrogel beads on cell behavior were investigated. Results confirmed that extracts of BG/ALG beads could simulate proliferation and osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells as well as angiogenesis of endothelial cells. Furthermore, MC3T3-E1 cells were successfully encapsulated in hydrogel beads. BG/ALG beads enhanced the cell proliferation and stimulated osteogenic differentiation of the encapsulated MC3T3-E1 cells as compared with ALG beads. Therefore, BG/ALG composite hydrogel beads loaded with bone forming cells may be useful tools for bone regeneration and tissue engineering applications. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part B: Appl Biomater, 102B: 42–51, 2014.