Introduction: Hematopoietic cell transplantation is a potentially lifesaving procedure for patients with hematological malignancies who are refractory to conventional chemotherapy and/or irradiation treatment. Umbilical cord blood (CB) transplantation, as a hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) source, has several advantages over bone marrow transplantation with respect to matching and prompt availability for transplantation. Additionally, CB has some inherent features, such as rapid expansion of T cells, lower prevalence of graft-versus-host disease and higher graft versus tumor efficacy that make this HSPC cell source more favorable over other HSPC sources. Areas covered: This review summarizes the current CB and CB derived T cell applications aiming to better disease control for hematological malignancies and discusses future directions to more effective therapies. Expert commentary: CB transplantation could be used as a platform to extract cord blood derived T cells for ex vivo expansion and/or gene modification to improve cellular immunotherapies. In addition, combining cord blood gene-engineered T cell products with vaccination strategies, such as cord blood derived dendritic cell based vaccines, may provide synergistic immunotherapies with enhanced anti-tumor effects.