Current membrane-based bioartificial organs consist of three basic components: (1) a synthetic membrane, (2) cells that secrete the product of interest, and (3) an encapsulated matrix material. Alginate and agarose have been widely used to encapsulate cells for artificial organ applications. It is important to understand the degree of transport resistance imparted by these matrices in cell encapsulation to determine if adequate nutrient and product fluxes can be obtained. For artificial organs in xenogeneic applications, it may also be important to determine the extent of immunoprotection offered by the matrix material. In this study, diffusion coefficients were measured for relevant solutes [ranging in size from oxygen to immunoglobulin G (IgG)] into and out of agarose and alginate gels. Alginate gels were produced by an extrusion/ionic crosslinking process using calcium while agarose gels were thermally gelled. The effect of varying crosslinking condition, polymer concentration, and direction of diffusion on transport was investigated. In general, 2-4% agarose gels offered little transport resistance for solutes up to 150 kD, while 1.5-3% alginate gels offered significant transport resistance for solutes in the molecular weight range 44-155 kD-lowering their diffusion rates from 10- to 100-fold as compared to their diffusion in water. Doubling the alginate concentration had a more significant effect on hindering diffusion of larger molecular weight species than did doubling the agarose concentration. Average pore diameters of approximately 170 and 147 A for 1.5 and 3% alginate gels, respectively, and 480 and 360 A for 2 and 4% agarose gels, respectively, were estimated using a semiempirical correlation based on diffusional transport of different-size solutes. The method developed for measuring diffusion in these gels is highly reproducible and useful for gels crosslinked in the cylindrical geometry, relevant for studying transport through matrices used in cell immobilization in the hollow fiber configuration. (c) 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.