"It's like baking a cake," Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine said as he cooked up a fresh kidney on stage at a TED Conference in the California city of Long Beach.
Scanners are used to take a 3-D image of a kidney that needs replacing, then a tissue sample about half the size of postage stamp is used to seed the computerized process, Atala explained.
The organ "printer" then works layer-by-layer to build a replacement kidney replicating the patient's tissue.
College student Luke Massella was among the first people to receive a printed kidney during experimental research a decade ago when he was just 10 years old.
He said he was born with Spina Bifida and his kidneys were not working.
"Now, I'm in college and basically trying to live life like a normal kid," said Massella, who was reunited with Atala at TED.
"This surgery saved my life and made me who I am today."
About 90 percent of people waiting for transplants are in need of kidneys, and the need far outweighs the supply of donated organs, according to Atala.
"There is a major health crisis today in terms of the shortage of organs," Atala said. "Medicine has done a much better job of making us live longer, and as we age our organs don't last."