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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 to studying and diagnosing conditions such as cancer and autoimmune disorders. Learn how health research is communicated through scientific literature. Plus, analyse statistical data and report on data you’ve collected. You’ll 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 code




  • 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.

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.
Level of Study
2 9 5

Study method

Module cost

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.


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

Laboratory schools

The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS022 website.

Future availability

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

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2028.


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

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of biology or health obtained through:

  • OU level 1 and some OU level 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S290?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:


  • {Human biology {SK299]}.

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. A module primer contains the basic concepts you should understand. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting your studies or as a resource throughout.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2028.

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 receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 20/06/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

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 broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

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 pages.