HighlightsAlginate bead diameter was stable in cell culture media over a 2-week culture.
Mechanical properties of alginate beads were characterised by AFM indentations.
E * of freeze dried alginate beads was stiffer than freshly made beads.
E * of freshly made beads denotes bead stability over the 2-week period.
Alginate microbeads are extensively used in tissue engineering as microcarriers and cell encapsulation vessels. In this study, we used atomic force microscopy (AFM) based indentation using 20 µm colloidal probes to assess the local reduced elastic modulus (E* ) using a novel method to detect the contact point based on the principle of virtual work, to measure microbead mechanical stability under cell culture conditions for 2 weeks. The bead diameter and swelling were assessed in parallel. Alginate beads swelled up to 150% of their original diameter following addition of cell culture media. The diameter eventually stabilized from day 2 onwards. This behaviour was mirrored in E* where a significant decrease was observed at the start of the culture period before stabilization was observed at ~ 2.1 kPa. Furthermore, the mechanical properties of freeze dried alginate beads after re-swelling them in culture media were measured. These beads displayed vastly different structural and mechanical properties compared those that did not go through the freeze drying process, with around 125% swelling and a significantly higher E* at values over 3 kPa.