Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation has an established role in the treatment of adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia whose survival when recipients of grafts from adult unrelated donors approaches that of recipients of grafts from sibling donors. Our aim was to determine the role of mismatched unrelated cord blood grafts in transplantation for 802 adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first or second complete remission. Using Cox regression we compared outcomes after 116 mismatched single or double cord blood transplants, 546 peripheral blood progenitor cell transplants and 140 bone marrow transplants. The characteristics of the recipients and their diseases were similar except cord blood recipients were younger, more likely to be non-Caucasians and more likely to have a low white blood cell count at diagnosis. There were differences in donor-recipient human leukocyte antigen-match depending on the source of the graft. Most adult donor transplants were matched at the allele-level considering human leukocyte antigens-A, -B, -C and -DRB1. In contrast, most cord blood transplants were mismatched and considered antigen-level matching; 57% were mismatched at two loci and 29% at one locus whereas only 29% of adult donor transplants were mismatched at one locus and none at two loci. There were no differences in the 3-year probabilities of survival between recipients of cord blood (44%), matched adult donor (44%) and mismatched adult donor (43%) transplants. Cord blood transplants engrafted slower and were associated with less grade 2-4 acute but similar chronic graft-versus-host disease, relapse, and transplant-related mortality. The survival of cord blood graft recipients was similar to that of recipients of matched or mismatched unrelated adult donor grafts and so cord blood should be considered a valid alternative source of stem cells for adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the absence of a matched unrelated adult donor.