Spherical and swellable gel beads in the size range 35-200 mu m were prepared by suspension polymerization of 2-hydroxypropylmethacrylate (HPMA). In the proposed method, a mixture of cyclohexanol and octanol was used as a diluent phase dispersed in an aqueous medium including poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) (PVP) as the stabilizer. The polymerization was initiated within the organic phase including the monomer and the crosslinker (ethylene glycol dimethacrylate) by an oil soluble initiator benzoyl peroxide. Spherical and swellable gel beads carrying both hydroxyl and carboxyl functional groups were also prepared by suspension copolymerization of HPMA and a water soluble comonomer (methacrylic acid). For this purpose, the suspension polymerization method proposed for HPMA was modified by using poly(vinyl alcohol) as a stabilizer instead of PVP. The effect of initiator concentration, polymerization temperature, monomer/diluent ratio, crosslinker concentration, stirring rate on yield, average size, size distribution, and carboxyl content of the HPMA based gel beads, were investigated. The swelling characteristics of the gel beads were defined. (C) 2000 Society of Chemical Industry.