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Investigating human health and disease

Study the cell and molecular science of health and disease, from genetics, biomedicine and immunology to cell and microbiology. Experience laboratory approaches used to study and diagnose conditions such as cancer and autoimmune disorders. Learn how health research is communicated though scientific literature. Plus, analyse statistical data and report on data you’ve collected. You explore different areas of the health sciences sector, from clinical sciences to publishing and industry.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

Browse qualifications in related subjects

Module

Module code
S290
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
60
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

In this online module, you’ll study six topics. You’ll carry out onscreen investigations using interactive tools, online databases and published articles.

Topic 1 – Humans as a model for investigation
This first topic introduces you to working with participants in health-based research, something that is core to improving our understanding of the normal and diseased human body. From the ethics and governance of human studies through to clinical trials, reporting and data analysis, this topic introduces you to core underlying principles and skills that thread throughout the module. You’ll carry out a study at home and experience collecting and managing informed consent of your participants performing a simple cognitive test.

Topic 2 – Cancers: from molecular dysfunction to therapy
In this topic, you’ll explore the biological and molecular basis of human cancer, from its global epidemiology and genetics to the micro-evolutionary aspects of how cells progress to form aggressive cancers. You’ll experience how tumours are graded in the pathology laboratory and see how gene expression can be used as a prognostic marker to inform cancer diagnosis, management and therapy.

Topic 3 – Rare disease: investigating cellular function
This topic will take you deep into the inner workings of the cell, allowing you to study disease at the cellular level and see how our understanding of normal cellular organelles and their function is informed using cells from individuals with rare diseases. You’ll explore internal cellular structures using fluorescence microscopy and see how cells are used to research potential treatments – from stem cells to cell and molecular therapies.

Topic 4 – Autoimmunity
This topic explores how immune cells and plasma are important in self and non-self-discrimination and their role in the pathology of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that arise from inflammation and tissue damage. You’ll use clinical testing techniques to detect and quantitate auto-antibodies, exploring how specificity and sensitivity is achieved in a laboratory-based diagnostic assay. You’ll also use library and internet resources to research an autoimmune disease and contribute your findings to a tutor group presentation.

Topic 5 – Genetic variation: towards personalised health
This topic will develop your understanding of inheritance patterns of human traits, how our present-day genome arose, how it functions and how the DNA sequence variation that contributes to health arises and is detected. You’ll investigate how genetic variation affects drug metabolism, learn how genetic testing is performed and explore the potential for gene-based therapies.

Topic 6 – Introducing the microbial world
This topic will develop an understanding of the core principles of microbial diversity, growth and bacterial community – all aspects relevant to human niches such as the skin, gut and oral cavities – and how local interactions and communications with host cells impact on both health and disease. You’ll study the gut microbiome and use a series of diagnostic tests to detect common clinical infections caused by microbes.

Throughout the module, you’ll access and use large health-related datasets and learn how the module’s themes can be contextualised within the wider health sciences sector where you will hear from representatives from publishing, genetic counselling, SMEs, pharma, charity, NHS diagnostics and clinical trials.

You will learn

A key aim of the module is to continue your development as a health scientist. Providing you with opportunities to study human disease using common investigative tools and approaches ranging from molecular testing through to working with human participants. The module also aims to increase your understanding of the wider health sciences sector, the professional skills required as a health scientist, and a selection of roles and occupations it encompasses.

Key skills developed will include:

  • communication skills, in particular presentation skills
  • collaboration skills
  • observation, investigation and practical skills
  • mathematical skills, including the use of statistics
  • information gathering, analytical and interpretative skills.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums. Participation in some of these discussions will form part of your assessed work.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. S290 also has a day school offered at various locations in the UK (an online equivalent will be available).

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

Investigating human health and disease (S290) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

    However, you need appropriate knowledge of biology or health. You’d normally be prepared by completing OU level 1 study as part of one of our health sciences qualifications, having passed Science: concepts and practice (S112) or Science and health (SDK100) and having completed some OU level 2 study by passing Human biology (SK299).

    Are you ready for S290? is a diagnostic quiz to help you decide if you’re prepared to start studying S290.

    Preparatory work

    You’ll be able to access the module website 2–3 weeks before the module starts, so you can learn to navigate the website and organise your study plan. There will be a module primer which contains information on basic concepts from your OU level 1 and level 2 studies. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting S290, or as a resource throughout your studies.

    Register

    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Field school/laboratory school

    This module has an optional field school/laboratory school. You must pay an additional charge for tuition, accommodation and meals (see module details for further information). You must also pay for your travel to and from the venue. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 27/11/2021.

    What's included

    You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assignment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access
    • access to student and tutor group forums.

    We’ll also give you a printed practical workbook

    You will need

    • Calculator (or some way of working with calculations).

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) and broadband internet access. Any macOS is unsuitable with this module.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook; however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S290 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.